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  • 12/06/2007, 11:16PM ET

Holding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing is Harmful to Athletes' Health

Bigalke (142-42-16) vs YankeesFan (89-63-11)
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The recent Olympic mountain-bike test event on 22 September in Beijing portended the dangers in which the IOC has placed its athletes in awarding the 2008 Olympics to the Chinese capital. Only eight men from a field of forty-six finished the race. Even reigning world champion Julien Absalon failed to finish. On the women's race, a better ratio emerged: thirteen of twenty-three covered the entire terrain. The thick, muggy air of Beijing took its toll on the finely-tuned athletes. American veteran and single-speed world champion Adam Craig was one of the riders who pulled out.

"I don't drop out of races in my backyard, let alone ones I fly to the other side of the world for...but I did this one. I had no option. After two laps," Craig stated afterward, "my lungs stopped working." Why should nations place their best athletes at pulmonary risk? The Chinese government is taking steps to reduce its pollution, but a lot of the damage wrought on its capital are irreversible in time for the Summer Olympiad. The mountain-bike race proved that even a half-hour of exertion in these conditions is making the healthiest athletes on earth sick...


First of all, they hold it there cause it is a huge city. Secondly, I went to Beijing this summer, and I was expecting the air to be really bad. However, it was not nearly as bad as it is hyped. Why take the risk? Because nothing will likely happen, and it is a huge city that will attract a lot of fans.


If the weather conditions all work out properly for the Olympics, with rainfall tamping down the particulates at the right times and the proposition to remove all auto traffic running smoothly, there will hopefully be no serious incidents. But in two simple hours of mountain-bike racing... on the Olympic course, nonetheless... cyclingnews.com reported athletes "coughing, hacking, spitting up all sorts of gross stuff and feeling nauseous...", shortness of breath and the like. With international rules so strict on what athletes can put into their bodies, this could have massive repercussions.

For instance, say a cyclist or a sprinter with asthma comes to Beijing and the pollution is not under control. They naturally need to use an inhaler to control their bronchial passages. But one too many puffs on the inhaler will set off the drug test for salbutamol, which in high quantities aids muscle recovery. It is used to strengthen the lung tissue, but as top cyclist Alessandro Petacchi can attest, there is no excuse an athlete can render which will debunk a positive test... the athlete can either resist the drugs and put health at risk, or can take medication and risk a lengthy ban...


Olympic athletes should be in shape, no matter how bad the weather conditions are. When I was in China, the only thing that effected me was the serious heat. I think that that might be more of a factor. All of the games are in stadiums, most of them indoors, and even the ones outdoors still have a lot of protection from the air.


The reality of the test is that these athletes were at peak fitness, having just come off a World Cup season and the World Championships. It is one thing to merely be walking around the city as a visitor. It is entirely another to be exerting your body to its physical limits in such conditions. Sure, most athletes won't face any troubles at the indoor venues; but the potential for illness among athletes in outdoor disciplines cannot be understated. If the world champion in mountain biking could not complete the course length, then the potential for the environment to throw the results out of whack certainly comes into play.

China still has almost a year to get the situation in order, but its efforts are amounting to mere window dressing. The Olympics have not yielded a new frame of mind among the Chinese government -- the only reason any steps are being taken are to put as positive a face on for the rest of the world as possible. Beijing is a big city, and its population deserves to host a big event. But that does not mean that the conditions are up to the task. The first test results for the upcoming Olympiad prove that environment will have adverse effects on the athletes.


I realize that they are two different things, but as I said before, if an athlete is truly in shape, they should be able to play their sport anytime, anywhere. I agree that it is taking a risk at their health, but I think it is worth the risk. I don't think that anyone will have true health problems because of these Olympics. If the athletes can set everything aside and focus on winning, this shouldn't even really effect them. The reason many people did bad on the test is because nothing was at steak. It wasn't real. When the intensity is on, they will focus on their event, and not on the pollution in the air.

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