Let's see: what will come next in the unfolding disaster for Olympians
planning to compete in endurance events in the Beijing smog?
Last March, world champion marathoner Haile Gebrselassie pulled out of
the Olympic Marathon competition. This was a serious blow to the Beijing
Olympics, but very lately, their seems to be an awakening of journalists all
over the world concerning air pollution, different from the earlier
challenges concerning repression and genocide that have been posed by
Tibet activists and Tibet supporters in so many so-called "civilized"
nations like France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressing
reservations about even going to the Olympics. Most notable of these
journalists is Ireland's Clifford Coonan writing for The Independent, who
asks the sad and very obvious question concerning the Olympics being held in Beijing: WHY ARE WE ASKING THIS NOW instead of years ago when Beijing was "selected"?
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge vowed to postpone endurance events (marathon, road walks, road cycling, triathlon) if poor air quality presents a risk to athletes, but this won't make it, Jacques, and deep down you and everyone else in the world knows it: you must move AT LEAST the whole set of the above events to different cleaner venues, and maybe a few other events, out of Beijing altogether. At this point, the IOC merely advises that athletes competing for an hour continually "may be at risk." What a gift for understatement!
A few days ago, we brought forth the likelihood that several of perhaps the marathoners, cyclists, and triathletes would expire in the Beijing Smog. Yes, it is that bad. This controversial article has been posted all over the world. You can read it here: http://www.transworldnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=52585&ret=AccountDtl.aspx title:Beijing's Infernal Air Pollution Will Kill A Few Olympic Athletes; Most US Athletes Will Wear Masks While Preparing for Their Events Carbon Monoxide, Industrial Pollution, Lead, Particulate Matter: That's Just The Air! What Horrors Await Those Who Eat Beijing's Polluted Food?
[Nothing much was put to rest by George Bush sanguinely remarking that if he were not to show up at the Opening Ceremonies, it would be an "affront" to the Chinese people. Curious, isn't that: he has never once appeared to worry about any affronts to the people of any nation, not even the one whose Presidency he is about to leave.]
Gebrselassie said he could not compete in the Olympic marathon because
Beijing's air pollution would damage his health, although he will run the
10,000 meter race within the Olympic Stadium, hopefully to make it less
damaging to his lungs. "The pollution in China is a threat to my health and
it would be difficult for me to run 42k in my current condition [asthma]," he told Reuters, adding that pollution "would be a hazard to athletes, seriously."
Obviously, the International Olympic Committee should move the Olympic
marathon to a cleaner venue. So what if it enrages a few Chinese officials?
Moving them out of Beijing is the only way to protect the health of the
marathoners and long distance cyclists!
Growing up on a farm in Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie ran ten K's to school
each day and another ten kilometres going home. As an adult, he ran with his left arm bent, the effect of years spent running with books under his arm. By the time of the 1996 Olympics, Gebrselassie was the world record holder at 10,000m and the twice defending world champion. Kenyan Cross-country champion Paul Tergat became a serious challenge. Tergat and Gebrselassie pulled ahead of the field after 8000m. Gebreselassie then surged ahead to win by six metres.
The two great marathoners renewed their rivalry at the Sydney Olympics in
2000, when they left everyone behind; again, Tergat led as they entered the final lap, and the finish was even closer, until the very last step, the most exciting finish in Olympic history.
At the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, Gebrselassie finished 5th in the 10,000m. Now, in 2008, I conclude that Haile doesn't want to hurt his chances in the marathon in 2012 in London because of the foul air in Beijing. His marathon record is 2hr 4 min 26 sec.
Australian Rob de Castella ran 42km in the hot L.A. 1984 smog. During the race in that yellow smog Los Angelinos know so well, his eye had swollen shut. This smog also had devastating effects on the women's race. In video beamed around the world, Swiss marathoner Gabriele Andersen-Scheiss staggered across the finish line, where she collapsed.
De Castella thinks these kinds of scenes will occur again in August. "The conditions will be very, very cruel, and in an event like the marathon it is so tough. I think we will see a huge attrition rate in Beijing, and it's going to take its toll on athletes." He remembers L.A. as "a shocker and not only because I only finished fifth. There was a huge amount of concern about the pollution levels leading up to it and a lot of athletes were talking about boycotting the marathon, but at the end of the day athletes will walk over broken glass to get to the start line."
De Castella entered that race as the world's champion marathoner, but Los Angeles' smog killed his chances for even a Bronze; the race was run in the afternoon, so marathoners could come to the finish line just before the closing ceremony. "I suffered considerably," de Castella said. "By the finish, my right eye had swollen up so I was hardly able to see out of it. I think that was a direct result of the pollution; the swelling went down after a couple of days, but given what happened to my eye you have to wonder what was going on with my other functions. One never knows for certain how much of an effect those pollutants are going to have, but some individuals are more susceptible than others. If all things were equal the best athlete would still win, but any athlete with any respiratory sensitivity will be much more severely affected."
Regarding Haile Gebrselassie opting out of the road race:"It's sad for the fans and it's even sadder for him. If he won an Olympic marathon gold medal to go with his other medals he would go down as the greatest distance runner the world has seen, but the Olympic Games hosts are never chosen to provide the best conditions for the marathon."
In Beijing, the marathon will start at 7:30 in the morning. Now that is some really great planning, folks.....