Meet the photographer who took the iconic photo of Usain Bolt smiling

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Cameron Spencer captured Usain Bolt smiling near the end of his semifinal race. Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer captured Usain Bolt smiling during his semifinal race. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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RIO DE JANEIRO — He took a risk, took off and took one of the most famous Olympics photos ever.

Cameron Spencer wasn’t even stationed at the 100-meter semifinal Sunday night when Usain Bolt walked toward the starting blocks. He was over at high jump while 11 of his Getty Images colleagues took photos of the semi. Then the Sydney-based photographer had a short break in between competitors and decided to make a run for it.

He hustled over to the 70-meter mark of the track, figuring Bolt would be parting with the crowd of runners by then. Spencer knew his teammates would get plenty of good shots, so he went with a slower shutter speed to get a blurred effect. “I took a risk,” he said. Maybe he’d get a neat shot of Bolt in midstride.

Did he ever.

[Photos: Best Rio images from photographer Cameron Spencer]

Spencer took six photos in quick succession, and one of them revealed Bolt turned toward him, smiling broadly while his competitors suffered through the last seconds of their race. It was iconic Bolt – a goofball who happens to be the fastest runner in history. The photo instantly danced around social media.

But Spencer didn’t know it yet.

He says it took about four minutes for him to run to take the shot, upload it, then hurry back to get the next high jumper. His mind was on getting his assignment done, not on getting the greatest photo of the Games.

Soon, though, the text messages rolled in. “Wow!” and “Nice shot!” and the like.

He still had no time to revel in it, though. His real job was to shoot the final – and then chase after Bolt in his victory lap. Which isn’t easy, considering how fast Bolt runs even after a race, and how so many other photographers are also angling for the ideal shot.

“Running with him after he wins? That’s hard work,” Spencer says.

[Related: Before Rio, long jumper Jeff Henderson tried out with Kansas City Chiefs]

Only later did Spencer realize his photo had become a sensation. His Twitter followers jumped. Media outlets called for interviews.

He’s hardly gloating, though.

“If I had that shot 10 times again, I’d probably [expletive] it up,” he jokes.

This photo of Gael Monfils at the Australian Open is Cameron Spencer's favorite of the year. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Spencer also took this photo of Gael Monfils at the Australian Open. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

So here’s the crazier part: The Bolt photo isn’t even his favorite from this year. He shot one of Gael Monfils at the Australian Open, with the tennis player diving to his right and the sunlight casting his shadow onto the court. Spencer gets really excited when he speaks of that shot.

But don’t get him wrong: He’s still quite pleased with the Bolt photo.

“Every now and then,” he says, “you look at the camera and you have a big grin.”

Two big grins: one for the photographer, and one for the subject.

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