These Athletes Were Striking Gold Ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics

Peter Read Miller had Jason Kidd and other stars painted in gold.
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jason-kidd

Jason Kidd

For Sports Illustrated’s feature previewing the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the focus couldn’t have shone brighter: gold. Winning a gold medal means reaching the pinnacle of athletic achievement. So photographer Peter Read Miller chose to shoot athletes painted, head-to-toe, in gold, a manifestation of their ultimate goals.

Posing the athletes was tricky. Sometimes, action poses worked while others, Miller says, “looked like some shiny guy with a pointy head.”

“It was pretty cool,” Miller says. “But it was clear to me that the activity wasn’t necessarily the key part. It depended on the athlete, but some of them looked a lot better just posed than actually doing what they really do.”

brian-viloria

Brian Viloria

Overall, images of eight athletes from five countries made the Sept. 11, 2000, issue of SI. But what could have been a globe-trotting project turned into a more localized series of shoots as many of the athletes happened to be competing or training in the U.S. in the run-up to the ’00 Games. The only shoot Miller did out of the country was Ivan Ivankov, the Belarusian gymnast.

In a now iconic image, Ivankov, who missed the Atlanta Games in 1996 after tearing his right Achilles tendon, stares past the camera while holding himself on the rings.

Despite Miller’s photographing athletes more well known to Americans such as NBA star Jason Kidd, it was Ivankov who ended up on the cover of the Olympic preview issue.

“They went for a real flyer and picked Ivan Ivankov, the Belarusian, because it was so classic, a classic image,” Miller says. “It was so satisfying to have the cover come out of one of my shots after all was said and done. It was a big emotional roller coaster.”

ivan-ivankov

Ivan Ivankov

Part of the “roller coaster” Miller describes stemmed from anxiety about the athletes’ willingness to undergo the extensive body-painting process.

“The whole spraying was like a two-, three-hour thing. The real trick was that you can spray people’s skin and it’s pretty much all the same. But the different uniforms they wore [made it harder]—like a basketball uniform is one material and a swimsuit is totally different,” Miller says.

inge-de-bruijn

Inge de Bruijn

There were also different types of shoes that needed to be painted, boxing gloves and even a softball bat. The bat Crystl Bustos swung in her portrait, for example, had to be painted and sealed by a car painter, then baked in an oven to make sure it didn’t chip.

The key to making the shoots work despite extensive prep is by getting buy-in from the subjects, Miller says. And, in this case, the concept spoke for itself.

“If you could show a person a photo that they’re going to be in that’s different, they think it’s cool. They thought, ‘There’s never been anything done like this before.’ I think they all dug it from that standpoint,” Miller says.

crystl-bustos

Crystl Bustos

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Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI’s photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on Hélio Castroneves and the Indy 500, you can find it here.

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