By Stephen Jones
|Mar 11, 2008|
The world's fastest long distance runner has said he will not compete in the Beijing Olympics marathon because of fears over air pollution.
Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie holds the current record for the marathon and is regarded as one of the best long-distance runners of all time.
"The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42 kilometres in my current condition," he told Reuters.
The 34-year-old has exercise-induced asthma, but said that he still plans to run the 10,0000-metre race.
However by not competing in the marathon he risks causing further embarrassment to Beijing, who have already seen celebrities call for a boycott of the Games over the regime's human rights record.
The World Health Organisation have already warned that air pollution in Beijing already exceeds recommended limits by as much as five times.
Canada's Olympic committee have called for athletes to stay away from the city until three or four days before their events to avoid a build up of smog in their lungs.
Instead the team will train in Singapore, which has levels of humidity similar to Beijing but without the associated air pollution.
U.S. coaches are urging their athletes to strap on dust masks as soon as they step off the plane in Beijing.
The concerns come as acclaimed film director Ang Lee looked ready to join Steven Spielberg in a boycott of the Games after his favoured actress Tang Wei was blacklisted from China.
Both Spielberg and Lee were due to act as advisers for the opening ceremony of the Games this summer, but the director of ET quit earlier this year over concerns over the regime's involvement in the genocide in Darfur.