Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spinning Full Throttle

Yesterday world-record marathoner Haile Gebrselassie announced he would not compete in the Beijing Olympics because of his concerns about air pollution.

"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," the 34-year-old Ethiopian who many enthusiasts call the best distance runner of all time, told Reuters.

For the Beijing Olympic organizers it's yet another blow a month after director Steven Spielberg declined to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies as an international artistic advisor.

So the Chinese hit back hard today, with many media reports about how the government is doing a lot and spending so much money to ensure clean air for the Games.

Today the foreign ministry held a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi put up a brave face when an American reporter stood up and pointed out an athlete (not mentioning Gebrselassie's name) was not going to attend the Olympics because of the air pollution... so what response did the Chinese have?

"I believe the air quality will only become better and better in Beijing," he began as he addressed the giant hall packed with foreign and domestic media.

"Most athletes who are coming to Beijing are satisfied and have confidence in the air quality, environment and sports facilities in Beijing," Yang told the press conference. "They have full confidence in these conditions."

Then he added this kicker:

"One thing you can't argue about is that many athletes have broken world records in China, notably in Beijing," said Yang.

"So I think that if the world's athletes can't break world records in other places, they should come to Beijing, perhaps they will have a better chance here."

Which world records is he referring to, and when were they broken?

Many teams who can afford it, will stay in Japan, Singapore and Korea before heading to Beijing in August. And even then athletes have been advised to spend as little time in the Chinese capital as possible to decrease the chances of the air affecting their performance.

So while athletes and coaches have raved about the venues during the test events, no one has praised China about how great the air is.

And if the Chinese government has really spent so much money on improving air quality and has decided to take half the cars off the road so people can only drive on alternate days -- then why not have action speak louder than words and start the exercise now. Only when people see a visible difference will they actually believe it.

If the Chinese are under the impression air quality will change magically overnight, they are in for a surprise.

1 comment:

ks said...

first it is spilberg , now this long distance runner boycot are all politically motivated. years ago the ioc has granted beijing as the host then athletes of the world should adjust themselves to the environment ,weather , altitude of that site, NOT that site adjust to the athletes. this is part of a challenge to the human physical endurance, the real olympic spirit. of course the host country should do its utmost to improve the environment which china has been doing in earnest. they should blame their body is not good enough to perform under the circumstances rather than blame the environment not good enough for them. let all the quaint hearted drop out of the race. there are lots of other good athletes in the rest of the world. it is survival of the fittest the basic law of evolution.