Sunday, August 26, 2007

Endurance athletes worry about pollution in Beijing

By Juliet Macur - Published: August 26, 2007

IHT: OSAKA: With temperatures rising into the mid-30s Celsius and with the humidity closing in on 90 percent, some marathoners could not bear it at the track and field world championships.

They staggered and collapsed. They were taken away on stretchers, soaked in sweat that had no chance of cooling them in heat reaching the mid-90s Fahrenheit. Others simply stopped running, as their bodies failed to cope with the weather. Of the 85 runners who started Saturday, about a third failed to finish behind Luke Kibet of Kenya, who won in 2 hours 15 minutes 59 seconds.

"For me, it was the hardest race of my life because the condition is no good," said José Manuel Martínez, a Spaniard who was 10th, standing near where another competitor toppled over without warning. "I hope the Olympics will be better. If Beijing is going to be anything like this, I don't know what we will do."

If pollution levels in that city are not abated in time for next year's Olympics, experts say, conditions for the marathon and other endurance events will be much worse than they were here Saturday.

In a visit to China this month, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said some Olympic events might be postponed if the pollution would put the athletes at risk.

Although Rogge was not panicking over the environmental issue, saying last week that he was "very confident" China would clean up Beijing, his suggestion to juggle the dates and the locations caused a stir. Some athletes and coaches said moving those events, particularly at the last minute, could be a disaster.

"The Olympics should have a fixed time and place because the athletes and coaches train very specifically for the day and the course," said Yilma Berta, the Ethiopian national marathon coach. "If the race is changed, then we may travel to the site too early, and then we are not having the proper training for the days before the race. It would be a very, very big problem for us."

Some sports federations, like those of the United States, Australia and Britain, have decided to house some athletes away from Beijing until right before the competitions so they will not be exposed to poor air.

...He (David Martin, an exercise physiologist with USA Track and Field) added: "The better choice right now is to just eliminate the pollution. I think the Chinese will do that because they have to do that. It would be embarrassing if they had a massive boycott because the athletes did not want to compete in those conditions. It would be embarrassing if they had dozens of athletes having asthma attacks or competing with face masks. China just doesn't want that as their legacy." (more)
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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