Mark Shearman, the doyen of Britain’s athletics photographers, celebrated his 65th birthday earlier this month when a group of colleagues from trackside and the press box threw a surprise party for him during the European Cup staged in Annecy, France.
Veteran Shearman shows no sign of slowing down: when he travels to Beijing next month, he will be attending his 12th Summer Olympics, having launched his long and successful career as a specialist photographer at the Tokyo Games in 1964.
His first cover shot for Athletics Weekly was Trevor Burton pole vaulting at Tooting Bec track in 1962, and 46 years later Shearman still works as the main snapper for the weekly magazine, as well as the official photographer for national governing UK Athletics, with his images appearing all over the globe, from Track & Field News in the United States, in publications throughout Europe, to Japan and China.
As a former sub-three-hour marathon runner, the Surrey-based photographer still runs regularly and retains a great affinity with the sport. An ever-present on the athletics circuit, Shearman is one of the best known and most recognisable characters on the track circuit and knows more athletes, coaches and officials than most of the reporters.
Those in attendance at his birthday party included photographers John Giles of the Press Association and Michael Steele from Getty Images, together with writers Tom Knight, of the Daily Telegraph, the Observer‘s Duncan Mackay, Jason Henderson and Simon Turnbull, from the Independent on Sunday.
“Mark is the consummate professional, incredibly hard working and he hardly ever has a weekend off,” said Henderson, the editor of Athletics Weekly. “In fact, about the only break he has had in recent years is covering the Honolulu Marathon in December, although even this involves him rising at about 4am to shoot the early morning start.
“If we want to use a stock shot of an athlete or coach from the past – however obscure the character – then it’s a huge surprise if he does not have one. When it comes to athletes flying over high jump bars or sprinting down a track at umpteen miles an hour, nobody nails this kind of action image with such consistent excellence.”
Such is the esteem and affection with which Shearman is regarded by his “blunt” colleagues, he was the first non-writer allowed to join the British Athletics Writers’ Association. “I’ve known Mark from the very start of my own career, and he has never been anything other than helpful, offering ideas and advice,” Steven Downes, SJA secretary, said, “although I would not necessarily suggest that he always makes a good companion passenger in a taxi in a foreign city.”
Which may be a drawback for anyone working with Shearman in Beijing, although many expect the track snapper will still be working hard in four years’ time, when at last he will be able to cover an Olympics and travel relatively relaxed in a black London cab or even use his newly-obtained bus pass.
Mark Shearman, sporting his birthday present, a vest signed by the European Cup-winning team, toasts fellow revellers last weekend
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