07 August 2008

Beijing Olympics and Air Pollution

Photo by Issei Kato /Reuters via NYTimes

Is that a terrorist or a would-be criminal?

An overreaction is more like it. The man in the photo is a US athlete competing in the Beijing Olympics, and he was photographed arriving in Beijing airport wearing a mask.

It is no secret that air pollution in Beijing is one of the worst in the world. Even the BBC is up on its toes monitoring daily air pollution levels in Beijing.

In 2004, 11 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world were in China. Beijing at that time was the 13th most polluted city.

So, can we fault these US athletes for wearing masks?
"This is really a surprise, because I didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal. Why we wore the masks is simple: pollution. When you train your whole life for something, dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, why wouldn’t you be better safe than sorry? They told us that the Chinese were mad and that this is a politically charged issue, but we didn’t mean to offend anybody," ~ Mike Friedman, one of the US cyclists seen wearing masks in Beijing airport

What is probably offensive is wearing it inside the airport. Is the pollution so severe it has invaded even the airport?

But I guess it is really not a big deal. If their sports doctor/adviser wants these athletes to wear masks, then let them. No big deal. I think the Olympic officials were being too onion-skinned about the issue.

Can air pollution affect an athlete's performance? Oh, yes! Muscles --- which play major roles in most sports events --- depend on a steady supply of clean air, mainly oxygen. Smog, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc., (all known air pollutants) interfere with normal physiology by limiting the oxygen supply needed. Those athletes with respiratory problems like asthma should take special precautions. Yes, wearing masks might help.

For me, I think the Beijing Olympics is one big experiment on how different world athletes will perform against each other in the midst of an air-polluted setting.

Let the games begin!
blog comments powered by Disqus