Posted by: Joe English | March 24, 2008

Racing: IOC officials say air quality will be OK, but have plans just in case

The International Olympic Committee weighed in on the concerns raised over air quality at the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing today. While first essentially brushing asides concerns over air quality, a medical commission has decided that there is some risk for outdoor activities lasting over an hour and that a back-up plans to monitor and reschedule events are warranted.

In an analysis of data taken at test events in August 2007 — the same time period as the games will be held this year — the IOC’s Medical Commission found that “the health of athletes was largely not impaired” and that no issues were reported by team doctors treating athletes. However, with events lasting more than one hour, the commission went on to report that “there may be some risk”. The list of activities that falls into this group includes “urban road cycling, mountain bike, marathon, marathon swimming, triathlon and road walk.”

The IOC went on to say that for these stenuous outdoor events, a “plan-b” would might be necessary. They would therefore put in place a procedure that will include daily monitoring of air quality and weather conditions at the venue, a reporting process from the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau to the IOC and relevant sports Federation, and a joint IOC-sports Federation decision to postpone the event if necessary.

In an article about the findings in the International Herald Tribune IOC president Jacques Rogge said Monday, that the data showed there is “no danger whatsoever” for athletes competing in high intensity events lasting under an hour, but that those involved in longer outdoor events “could be affected by poor air.”

He went on to add that rescheudling of events is always a possiblity, noting that the Olympic Downhill event was postponed for 16 days due to poor weather conditions. In that case, the Downhill was held on the last day of competition — the last possible day to hold it.

The Marathon is typically scheduled for the last day of Olympic competition, so this would not give organizers much flexilbilty in moving the day of the race. The only option might be pull in the time of the race to a cooler, earlier, part of the day.

Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie has said that this year’s event is “going to be the hardest marathon in history,” in justifying his decision not to run.

IOC President Rogge added in an interview with The Associated Press, “while I regret the absence of Haile Gebrselassie, I respect his decision. But the games are far stronger than the individual. The marathon will be a great success and there will be a great champion.”

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