Iconic Running Photos

Legendary athletics photographer Mark Shearman MBE shares his five favourite running snaps – and explains the story behind them

Mo Farah Barcelona 2010

Mo Farah, European Champs Barcelona, 27/07/2010

“The significance of this photo is that it is of Mo’s first major championships outdoor title, the European 5000m, and obviously he looks quite pleased. I’ve almost got eye contact with him; he’s almost looking straight down the lens. That’s not luck; that’s knowing where to stand. I’ve known Mo since he was 12 or 13, and we’ve been on first-name terms since he was about 15. He’s not as accessible as he once was, obviously, as he’s now in the super athlete bracket, but he still says hello whenever we’re at the same event.”


Men's National Cross Country Championship 2013

English National Cross-Country Champs, Sunderland, 23/02/2013

“You can see all the other photographers standing in front of me down the hill. They wouldn’t have got any of that background at all. All they’ll see are the people in the front row. I got there early and positioned myself a road adjacent to the start up a steep bank, and it gave me that depth, which really makes that picture – not just of the runners but the hills in the back.

The snow was a bonus, too. The English National Cross-Country Champs is an amazing race. The ground shakes as the runners pass you. It’s unbelievable.”

seb coe moscow 1980

Seb Coe , Moscow Olympics, 01/08/1980

“Coe was tipped to win the 800m, which of course he didn’t, and Ovett was tipped to win the 1500m, which Coe won. So there’s a certain amount of relief on Coe’s face: he’s actually got a gold medal.

“As an aside, if Coe hadn’t won that that race – although of course he went on to win a gold in 1500m in 1984 – the history of British Athletics might have looked a lot different. The press had billed it as a huge rivalry: two people from different backgrounds who didn’t speak to each other. I’m not sure that was entirely correct, but it definitely gave the race a sense of added excitement.

Interestingly, I tried to get head-on for that shot – there was a wonderful picture that was published all around the world of that very moment I’ve taken but from head-on. Unfortunately, a 6ft 6ins Russian security guard wouldn’t let me and another guy get past, so I made do with this picture. But I’m pleased with what I’ve got.”

Carl Lewis 1984

CARL LEWIS, los angeles OlYMPICS, 04/08/1984

“This was the semi-final. What I found interesting about this picture is how close I am to the track. I think Carl Lewis was drawn in Lane 8 and I was right next to him. You don’t often get that close to sprinters, and it’s not until you do that you get a true sense of how fast they are going. It’s a nice picture of someone in form.

“If you’re taking pictures of sprinters side on, you have to be able to pan the camera much quicker than you would if you were shooting distance runners. I’m not using a static camera here: I get him in the viewfinder 25 metres down the track and follow them through as they go past you. You just hope you get a picture like this.”

Derek Ibbotson 1963

Derek Ibbotson , White City, London, 06/07/1963

“This was taken at the White City track, which is sadly no more. It’s taken before all-weather tracks were introduced, and the water is just lying on the cinders. That was taken only about a year after I’d started taking athletics photographs, and if I took a picture like that today I’d be very pleased with myself.

What saddens me is that some of the magazines I’ve sent this shot to cropped the shadows out, which I hope you’re not going to do [Editor: don’t worry, we haven’t!]. I was working on the in-field here as my pictures had started to be used quite widely. It’s unusual for a fledgling photographer to be granted access to the in-field; it normally takes a few years.”

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