Capturing the Human Spirit: Thoughts and Images from the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games

Photographs by Jamie Schapiro

As spring of 2003 begins, I find myself looking back to a year ago, when the Salt Lake Olympic Games were coming to a jubilant close. It was a period of great pride for me to witness representatives from around the world coming together in the spirit of competition, friendship, and humanity.

I remember the moment I learned that Salt Lake City would be hosting the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. It was the summer of 1995 and just thinking about a new millennium was daunting, much less a millennium that would begin with the celebrations and excitement of these games in a place so familiar to me. At that point I did not realize that, when the games began almost seven years later, they would provide an opportunity for my entire family to come together and, more poignantly, a chance for our country to begin recovering from one of the greatest tragedies it has ever suffered. I am fortunate to be a part-time resident of Park City, Utah–not far from Salt Lake City–and there was never any doubt that my family would be present for the Olympics; however, I could never have guessed that my brother, photographer Jamie Schapiro, would have earned the perfect vantage.

After a seven-year bout with the professional world in San Francisco, Jamie decided to quit his job at a dot-com in the beginning of 2001 and spend eight weeks traveling in New Zealand. He bought a car, slept in a tent, and rediscovered his true passion for photography amid the sweeping glaciers, snowy peaks, herds of sheep, and fresh Kiwi air. Upon his return that April, Jamie decided to establish himself as a professional photographer, unaware that the opportunity of a lifetime would come to him less than a year later, when he was offered the position as one of three photographers hired by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to capture the “human element” of the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

As it turned out the games were much more multidimensional than I anticipated. The footage on television hardly addressed the myriad of cultures that meshed together in Salt Lake that winter. At every event, fans frantically waved flags from dozens of nations, cheering for skiers from traditionally underrepresented countries like Sri Lanka and Bermuda. Every emotion imaginable could be seen in the faces of the athletes and the spectators. Volunteers in their yellow uniforms, and their National Guard counterparts greeted everyone with a smile and a wave of their metal-detecting wands. Kids from around the globe jumped together over an Olympic fountain in Salt Lake, while others swapped pins at the Coca-Cola trading posts. The games were truly a joining of people: different backgrounds and cultures were not ignored but celebrated, and as this small section of the United States quickly transformed into a global community, everything seemed to be underscored by ideas of liberty and acceptance–ideas that, to me, represent cornerstones of American culture.

Somehow Jamie managed to catch every nuance that made the 2002 Olympic Winter Games so extraordinary. One of the benefits of attending the games was being able to share them with my family. Jamie, however, was often hard to find. He would stay out late, setting up his equipment on building tops to get shots of Salt Lake City in its limelight, then wake up early the next morning to capture a glowing sunrise over the Rockies. We would hardly go anywhere without stopping to wait for him as he photographed the lines of buses or hundreds of practitioners of Falun Gong meditating on the side of the road in peaceful protest to the Chinese government’s censure of their beliefs. Nevertheless, what often seemed a too-hasty shot nearly always turned out a fitting example of the human element at that moment, and one you would barely have noticed had it not caught the corner of your eye.

If a picture speaks a thousand words, Jamie’s photographs tell a story all by themselves. They speak neither of controversy nor of victory, but simply of humanity.

This month, Travel Outward is exhibiting a selection of Jamie’s photographs from the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. Those interested in learning more about his work, or purchasing prints can do so at

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