Kostadin Andonov – Continuing a Legacy

Kostadin Andonov. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

Kostadin Andonov has been the official photographer of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee since the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. He has been a photographer at three Summer Olympics, one Winter Olympics, and two European Games. His father, Bonchuk Andonov, is also a sports photographer. They have a photo studio in Studentski grad, Sofia.

When he was a kid, Andonov was not drawn to photography and was generally just interested in sports. “I practiced swimming for ten years. My father wanted me to graduate from the University of Economics and do something related to it. I never graduated the university as I became interested in sports photography.”

Andonov’s first taste of professional photography came in 2003. “I had to help my father at a serious volleyball event. I was working on the computer and I became interested in taking photos. My father had taken two cameras. I asked him to set up a camera for me while I was waiting for his pictures. And step by step, the next year we did the same. For the first two or three years, I limited myself to these volleyball events.”

Kostadin Andonov with his family. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

While he was not interested in sports photography when he was younger, it was always fascinating for Andonov for a child to continue the profession of one of the parents. “I never studied photography. I have learned everything from my father,” he said.

The Games in London in 2012, which were Andonov’s first, were not so successful for Bulgaria as the delegation won only two medals. They later became three as Milka Maneva, in the women’s weightlifting up to 63kg, won a silver medal. At the actual competition, Maneva finished fifth, but in 2016, the International Olympic Committee confirmed that the athletes who took first, second, and fourth place were stripped of their places because they used prohibited substances.

When talking about the London Olympics, Andonov said that these Games were not very pleasant for him because of Bulgaria’s struggles. “I could do an exhibition with upset, crying, and disappointed Bulgarian athletes, because in last days the group all-around in rhythmic gymnastics failed, in the volleyball we finished fourth, and Stanka Zlateva lost the gold medal match in the women’s wrestling (freestyle up to 72kg).”

Stanka Zlateva with her silver medal. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

Todor Aleksiev of Bulgaria’s volleyball team. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

Among all the Games he has been a photographer at, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo were his favorite, having in mind the Bulgarian success. “I had never heard the Bulgarian anthem at the Olympics and all of the medals were really emotional for me.”

Andonov has two favorite photos from the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The first one was of Antoaneta Kostadinova, who won a silver medal in the Women’s 10 meter air pistol. The photo was taken on the second day of the Games. “She had difficulties in the qualifying. She had 15 shots left and was in 12-14th place. Kostadinova stopped shooting, went to her coach, and he started talking to her, calming her down. She smiled and after that moment, she started shooting very well. She became fourth and had one more shot left. Kostadinova felt like she had done what was necessary to reach the final. She turned, looked at her coach, and fired.”

Antoaneta Kostadinova with her coach. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

“The shot was very bad. Being sure that she was a finalist, she went into a situation again where she depended on the last shots of her opponents. She came to her coach. I was at an arm’s length to them. There was great tension. She cried very seriously and I also had tears in my eyes as well as we know each other really well. Apart from being a photographer, I am friends with a large chunk of the athletes and I take things personally.”

Antoaneta Kostadinova. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

Kostadinova qualified for the final and there everything worked out. “She was shooting very well from the very beginning and was in first place all the time. Two or three shots before the end she put down her pistol and rubbed her hands against each other, which showed me that she was nervous. When you are nervous, your hands sweat. Her last two shots were not good and she lost the gold medal,” Andonov remembers.

The other favorite photo of Andonov was of Iliana Raeva, who is the president of rhythmic gymnastics in Bulgaria. It was taken after the end of the second routine of the group all-around in rhythmic gymnastics. “There are several positions for photographers. The position from which we photographed the routines was on the other side of the so-called kiss and cry zone. This is where the athletes sit on the couch and wait for their score.”

Bulgarian group all-around. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

“While the girls were waiting for the score, Iliana Raeva was standing behind them, near the second area, which is not so popular for photographers. From the Rio Olympics where Bulgaria won a bronze medal, I knew that this area is more interesting after the routine is over since they find out their score and the place they take.”

Iliana Raeva at the 2016 Olympic Games. Photo Courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

“I chose to be in the second zone, although I lost the good position for photos for the second routine. Bulgaria was first after the qualification and the first routine of the final. Something interesting was expected to happen. They showed them their score. The girls went to the chairs that were lined up for them.”

“Iliana Raeva was standing behind them and was constantly clasping her hands to her chest, praying. She was corresponding with the coaches of Boryana Kaleyn and Katrin Taseva, the Bulgarian representatives in the individual. They were considering punishments, potential mistakes, whether the difficulty was fulfilled correctly, and what the possibilities were even before the Russians played their routine.”

Iliana Raeva. Photo courtesy of Kostadin Andonov.

“For four, five minutes she was constantly holding her chest. It is a dear photo, because when you shoot the routine, you are slightly limited. Only that happens while here there was a side reaction and something more interesting than the routine itself. They had played the same routines the day before in qualifying and I just wanted to have something different,” Andonov says.

What follows now for Andonov is a European Mixed Team Championships in Judo. He does not like to plan ahead, especially in COVID times.

“In January 2020, shortly before COVID, I had no work and made my plans until September 2020. I had everything outlined - when the Olympics were, other sports events, and even a possible time for a vacation. I made a calendar and after a month everything went wrong. When COVID happened, I had to stay two months at home. There were almost no competitions in the summer, no Olympics, everything I had written on the calendar disappeared,” Andonov says.

He finished with a smile and said that even though he does not like planning ahead, he has to do it, as some competitions may coincide.

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