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Mr. Rogge and Olympic Committee: Get the Marathon, Cycling, and Triathlon Out of Beijing's Deadly Air Pollution, Please!

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Retired Australian physician Dr. Ken Fitch, chair of International Olympic Committee's air quality committee for Beijing, regarding Los Angeles:

"It was a major problem until the Games started, then everyone went on holidays and the traffic was minimal and a lot of industry shut down and the air quality improved markedly. But the two weeks before that was diabolical. I went to hockey training one day, and my eyes, nose and throat were hurting and the players were all coughing and spluttering. Yet during the Games, the only episode I remember is that the captain of the US hockey team had some breathing problems." Dr. Fitch says  conditions will vary during the Games, and he thinks the smog will be better than expected, just as it was in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Athens.

[We must point out that statistically, however, those cities' conditions are child's play compared to Beijing! The sport of precisely quantifying those statistics and then arguing over them we will leave to the statisticians and atmosheric scientists. Actually, we got in touch with a Taiwanese atmospheric scientist Kwo-Ying Wang who wrote:

"I agree with you, that an alternative venue for the long distance races, marathon, long distance cycling, etc, to a healthier venue is a good idea if the air quality in the original venue is assessed to be too risky for the health of athletes."

Another 1984 Olympic physician, Dr. Brian Sando, recalls several Aussie women having respiratory problems at a test event in LA the year before, but not at an event during the actual games. "In the morning sometimes you would feel like you were getting a cold, scratchy in the throat. It would clear by lunchtime, but that  wouldn't have affected performance," he said. (Piece of cake, eh, Brian?)

The Aussies are most concerned about asthmatic athletes, screening many for the condition, and reviewing their medication requirements. Some have been identified, including Olympic 1500m freestyle champion Grant Hackett and triple world triathlon champion Emma Snowsill. "If they do everything they say they will, and they are lucky with the weather, then they could have pretty good air.They have many levers they can apply to improve the air quality."

Australian cyclist Stuart O'Grady has strongly objected to the "insane"
risks faced by cyclists. The governing body for athletics in Australia said
that it did not want its athletes marching in the opening ceremony because
of the pollution.
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"You go out for a jog or a run, and you come back and you blow your nose, and you don't think about it, and then there's all this black pollution that you've blown out of your body." -- Matt Reed, Triathlete
 
"Beijing's air quality is significantly worse in terms of visibility and 
pollution concentration than anything we would experience in Los Angeles on its worst day at any time in the year." -- Randy Wilber, US
 Olympic Committee Physiologist
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The first Marathon in Greece was run by a runner reporting on urgent military news, immediately after which he collapsed and died, and Olympic historians recall the 1904 St. Louis Marathon when there was so much dust and construction that less than half of the 34 runners finished, and once American runner collapsed and died after that race.

25% of United Kingdom athletes have exercise-induced asthma, including Paula Radcliffe, the marathoner who gave up because of pollution and heat in Athens in 2004. "I'm not frightened of racing in Beijing," she said. "The heat, the humidity and the pollution is something that you simply have to adapt to, everyone. If you are in good shape and you acclimatise properly, then you'll run well."

We find this to be Paula's wishful thinking and "athlete's daydreaming" although because of her personal experience, no doubt, she is displaying more self protective sense than, say, Australian marathoner Lee Troop saying that he refused to let air pollution concerns affect his training or willingness to compete, in line with Kevan Gosper, IOC vice president and Senior Australian Committee member, who said this: "If the wind comes in from the west, there's a real challenge with air quality. If the wind comes in from the east during the Games, then it will be as clear as it is here in Melbourne. Under normal conditions, day-to-day conditions, there's no risk to the health of the athlete in any event that requires effort up to an hour." (Got that, team? Winds from the west are ok, but if from the East, look out....)

Cyclist Leigh Hobson of the Canadian Road Racing Team: "I think my main concern is to expose myself and my teammates to as little pollution as possible. So the national team is going to be flying in very, very close to the day of our actual race so we don't have to train in pollution." 

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In all fairness to the few progressives in China's government, this
nation's "progress" has included substantial breakthroughs like planting
millions of trees to improve air quality, switching from coal to gas energy,
closing 10 per cent of its power stations. Authorities completed "The
Pollution Sources Census" around Beijing, including 90,000 sources: 24,000
as industrial, 45,000 residential, 21,000 agricultural and 128 treatment
facilities, according to Beijing's bureau of environmental protection.

Officials said that pollutants were reduced and air quality in the city
had improved for a ninth consecutive year. Physicians, however, maintain
that inhalable particles and ozone are still there. China has the top
16 most polluted cities in the world; 750,000 people a year die from
breathing-related illnesses, and even 50,000 newborns die from air pollution.

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