Picture Perfect: ‘I was shaking like a leaf with a mixture of nervousness, excitement’

In a new weekly series we ask Irish sports photographers to pick their favourite images.
Picture Perfect: ‘I was shaking like a leaf with a mixture of nervousness, excitement’
21 June 2003; Former South African President Nelson Mandela lands a “straight left” to the chin of former World Champion Muhammad Ali as South African Special Olympics Athlete Rofhiwa looks on at the Global Youth Summit, hosted by Timothy Shriver, President Special Olympics, in the Four Seasons Hotel, Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ireland. Picture credit: Ray McManus

In a new weekly series we ask Irish sports photographers to pick their favourite images.

This week, Sportsfile's Ray McManus tells Colm O'Connor about the electricity in the room when Mandela met Ali.

“I have taken thousands of pictures over the past 40 years in pitches and stadiums around the world but my all-time favourite image was captured in the function room of a Dublin Hotel.

"Former South African president Nelson Mandela and former world champion Muhammad Ali were in the Four Seasons, Ballsbridge to help celebrate Ireland’s hosting of the Special Olympics in 2003.

"Both were on the property but no-one knew for sure if they would meet. I was there taking some pictures of the general gatherings when I got the nudge from one of Mandela’s aides not to use any flash — so I knew then he was about to enter the room and join Ali.

"I hastily had to reset the camera and I was shaking like a leaf with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. You could feel the electricity in the room when these two icons stood next to each other.

"It is so hard to explain the feeling that was there, but it was definitely one of those hair standing on the back of your neck moments.

"There was nothing set up about the picture: The two were standing alongside and then Mandela threw out a punch.

Even though Ali was struggling hugely due to his Parkinson’s disease, his body automatically sprung into action and into a defensive stance.

"The image may not be the greatest shot from a technical perspective: The reason I could not use the flash was that Mandela’s eyes were extremely sensitive to bright light due to his years in captivity on Robben Island.

"But I love it.

"Not alone does it capture two inspirational figures, known the world over, but look at all the faces of the Special Olympic athletes behind them. I have been involved in covering the Special Olympics since 1990 when Mary Davis asked me to go to the European Games in Scotland.

"Back then I would fly over in the morning, take my pictures, fly back in the evening to develop and transmit them, and then repeat the process the next day.

"After the first day, The Irish Times used one of my pictures and the next morning, I brought the paper over and gave it to the young lad who was featured in it. Thirty years on and I can still remember his delight at seeing himself in the paper.

"There and then I learned the value of what the Special Olympics means to so many people. And I think the picture, with two of the most recognisable figures of the 20th century, does likewise."

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