With the 2008 Olympics in the history books, physicians specializing in EIA can relax, at least until gearing up for the next winter games in Vancouver. They will continue to play an important role in helping to keep elite athletes on top of their games.
Explore This IssueDecember 2008
Marlene Piturro Reports from Beijing
Chinese censors did an excellent job of controlling what the television viewers around the world saw and heard about Beijing’s air quality during the Olympics. Although Chinese authorities took draconian measures for six months before the summer games, including keeping two-thirds of Beijing’s 3.3 million cars off the road on alternate days, stopping all commercial construction, and shutting down polluters in outlying Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong provinces and Inner Mongolia, air quality was problematic on four out of the eight days I was in Beijing.
Smog hung heavily in the air for four days, although I saw only a handful of elderly people wearing masks to cope with the noxious air. The smog, combined with intense heat and humidity, often exceeding 90 on both measures, wore on the athletes, who seemed exhausted and dehydrated. Some, including the cyclists and tennis players I saw competing, were struggling for breath and had to rest frequently. Two days were relatively cool, foggy, and overcast and seemed to be less oppressive for the athletes. On one day it rained heavily and we had one blue-sky day.
On August 19, Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau Deputy Director Du Shaozhong said that Beijing’s air quality had been the best for any summer over the last 10 years, with grade 1 air quality in nine days, and grade 2 air quality in the other nine days.
Olympic Medal Contenders Hurt by Beijing’s Poor Air Quality
- Ethiopian Haile Gebreselassie, holder of 25 world records including the men’s marathon, opted out of Beijing’s distance runs.
- Sergio Paulinho of Portgual, silver medalist in cycling in 2004 Olympics, withdrew in Beijing because of respiratory problems.
- Misty May Treanor, a US gold medalist in beach volleyball in 2004 and 2008, struggled with exercise-induced asthma and playing in the rain.
- Australian Emma Snowsill, suffering from exercise-induced asthma, won the triathalon in subpar time.
- US swimmer Jessica Hardy was disqualified because she tested positive for denbuteral, even though she is a documented asthmatic.
- Forty-one-year-old US swimmer Dara Torrres, who was diagnosed with asthma 18 months ago, won silver instead of the expected gold medal.
- US track coach Jeanette Bolden, an asthmatic since childhood, struggled with Beijing’s heat, humidity, and poor air quality and coped by using stronger inhaled steroids.
- For the first time in Olympic history, the gold and silver medal soccer matches were stopped 30 minutes into each half to give athletes time to recover from smog, pollution, and heat and humidity in the mid-90s.
Beijing Versus Athens Olympic Records
Although no one has assessed the impact of Beijing’s polluted air, fog, smog, and intense heat and humidity on Olympic athletes’ performance, the difference in the number of world records set at both Olympics speaks for itself: