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Photography and sport, a constantly evolving story

Sports photography is undoubtedly a fascinating form of communication. The shot captures the athletic gesture with a unique effectiveness, the fatigue, the agony, the relationship with teammates and the opponent. But the representation of sport has changed profoundly over time.

What changed was the very concept of sports photography: if initially the focus was on the chronicle of the event, on the testimony, today the photographer is looking for the spectacular in the image - in order to provide emotions that no other medium can transmit as effectively and immediately.

For this reason, observing the evolution of the images of the competitions gives back an exciting story of how the conception of sport has changed, from a healthy exercise to a challenge to overcome the limits.

The beginning of sports photography

Let's go in order. Where was it taken and when was the first photographic image of a sporting event taken? The place is the United Kingdom, whose mid-nineteenth century spread on the one hand the culture of leisure as a conquest of a liberal policy and on the other hand educational models in which physical activity played a decisive pedagogical role for the progress of the country. The year is 1855: the shot of unknown provenance is kept in the Royal Library of Windsor and shows two boxers ready for combat. They're surrounded by a group of curious spectators.  The two boxers face each other in a guard position, as prescribed by the athletic code of the time. It doesn't really seem like they're playing an official match, but rather they're enjoying entertainment during a break from work.

Capture the movement

In twenty years' time, the whole of sport will be told through images. However, the sports photography of that time remains, in most cases, a staging of rhetorical and statuesque poses.  For things to change, we must wait for the arrival of scientific experiments that will block the passage of time in ever shorter moments, suitable for the perception of movement. A pioneer of studies in this field is Eadweard Muybridge: the famous sequence in which he manages to film the race of a horse on the track (we are in 1878) is an incredible success and opens the way to photography of movement.

Olympic images

The beginning of the 20th century marked an important turning point in the world of sport, as well as in contemporary culture. It is the turning point marked by the Olympics, which open the doors of athletic success to ordinary people. The photographic images that have come down to us from the London 1908 edition have preserved and handed down the charm of an event that has become a true legend in universal sport. Perhaps the most emblematic episode in this sense is that of the marathon: the Italian Dorando Pietri crosses the finish line first, but is immediately disqualified because during the last lap, due to continuous fainting, he was helped by some race officials. The irregularity of the intervention makes him lose the gold medal that passes to the American John Hayes, who came second. Even today, however, Pietri is still the real winner. The famous photograph that portrays him crossing the finish line has travelled around the world and has given the following generations the most authentic face of a cultural revolution.

The twentieth century

Throughout the 20th century, the spread of sports photography continued, thanks in part to the advent of the small format 'Leica' camera, roller films and new flash systems. There are no longer any limits to the use of photography. At the same time, photojournalistic reports in magazines around the world are spreading, a way to further circulate images. In the late 1960s, the era of television sports began. Competitions suddenly stop being a simple game and become one of the most colossal affairs of the century. Television makes every race into an Olympics, a global broadcast show.

To respond to the "fifth power", the publishing industry multiplies the weekly inserts of newspapers that started in the fifties and the so-called "niche" publications flourish, that is, dedicated to various themes: from furniture to music, from cooking to gardening, from art to sport. It is in this context that the figure of the sports photographer was born.

From 1980 onwards, sports photography techniques no longer know the limits or restrictions that were originally imposed on it by speed. It becomes possible to create an image that isolates from distances of hundreds of meters, in a single shot, a subject in the middle of a blurred action, or freeze an object that moves at very high speed in a sharp and precise way.

The advent of digital

While technological progress in the creation of photographic images has resulted in speeds that are unattainable by the human eye, digital processing has transmitted them via cable, optical fiber or satellite signal to every corner of the globe in real time. In a context where any sporting event can be shot by anyone and spread everywhere, sports photographers have focused primarily on the search for aesthetically perfect shots. The images of today's major sporting events are beautiful, smudge-free photos that are often reworked and used to create advertising campaigns. In short, it is no longer a matter of capturing and documenting true stories, but of building unique, unrepeatable images, realising a sublime vision of sport.

Indoor training at its best with Unity

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Preparing for a big outdoor sporting event in the comfort of your own fitness centre, for example, has never been easier. With the routes contained in Unity, you can start interactive outdoor routes, giving the impression of running and walking in some of the most exclusive outdoor locations in the world. You can choose to run marathons in Rome or New York thanks to Marathons. Can't reach the finish line in a single session? Pause the race and resume it whenever you want. If you're looking for more variety, the virtual tracks provide you with mountain trails and waterfront walks. This feature is also present on Run Personal, the treadmill designed by Antonio Citterio and hand assembled with high quality materials for the best indoor running.

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