Pollution wussies go quiet

While your correspondent believes Beijing’s air quality is a serious problem that I hope will be solved before everyone who lives in Beijing gets emphysema, it has always struck me that the Olympic Games air pollution scares were rather silly.

The Games have previously been held in polluted cities like Los Angeles and Mexico City, and the range of factors affecting athletic performance includes altitude, temperature, and wind. An athlete should be able to compete in different conditions, and pollution is one of the realities of 21st Century life.

Moreover, there are between 12 and 20 million people who live in and around Beijing on a permanent basis. Health concerns about people staying here for a week or two never deserved to be taken seriously.

On Saturday, the same day that Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt broke the world record for the 100 meter dash (9.69 seconds, see see story) The New York Times published an article by science journalist Gina Kolata:

An Artful Jogger in Beijing: The Pollution Is Not an Issue

Almost everything I was told about running in Beijing was wrong. My clothes would turn gray from pollution. I would be coughing and wheezing, hacking out black phlegm. I would never see any Chinese runners. I should just concentrate on getting some miles in — there was no way I would ever be able to maintain a reasonable pace. Or maybe I should just give up and spend my time on treadmills in the gym.

My goal, my coach Tom Fleming said, is just to run six or seven miles every day. I can worry about longer distances and pace when I get home.

So far, I have more than met that goal, and while these certainly are not good conditions for preparing to run a marathon — too hot and humid — they are not much worse than what I am used to on summer days in Princeton, N.J., where I live. If anything, it is easier to run fast here because it is so flat in Beijing. Pollution has not been an issue or, at least, if the air is polluted, it has not bothered me.

Still, it’s probably a good thing that air quality has been made a serious media concern. Whether anything is done about Beijing’s air and China’s many other environmental problems after the Games remains to be seen, but the Party is making the right noises: see this China Daily article published this morning titled Environment remains top priority – Wen.

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