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Beijing's pollution a major concern for Olymp -

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Beijing's pollution a major concern for Olympic athletes

Broadcast: 04/08/2008

Reporter: Paul Lockyer

The Beijing Olympics start in just four days and terrorist fears aside, while there is no doubt
about the meticulous preparations on the ground it is the air that is still causing significant


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The Beijing Olympics start in just four days, and terrorist fears aside,
while there's no doubt about the meticulous preparations on the ground, it's the air that's still
causing the most concern; for athletes at least.

After a few days of clear skies, the smog rolled in again today to envelope the Olympic city.

For all the assurances by Beijing authorities that pollution levels won't be an issue for athletes,
there are simply no guarantees.

Of most concern is the marathon, scheduled to be run through city streets on the final day of the

If the conditions take a turn for the worse, there are fears that it could become the most
gruelling marathon in Olympic history.

7.30's Olympic correspondent, Paul Lockyer, reports from Beijing.

PAUL LOCKYER, REPORTER: Far from the blanketing haze of Beijing, marathon runner Lee Troop has been
going to extreme lengths to try to prepare himself for the toughest of all Olympic events.

LEE TROOP, OLYMPIAN: 37.53. I'm in there on a bike cycling at 30 km/hr for an hour, and you know
the conditions are 30, 35 degrees; the humidity is 80, 85 per cent.

PAUL LOCKYER: Troop has been using a heat chamber in Ballarat as part of his conditioning. But he
is facing an unknown factor - Beijing's atmosphere.

LEE TROOP: The anomaly that no one can predict is going to be the pollution. But one thing I try to
do was not focus too much on it, because there's going to be a hundred guys standing on the start
line and a hundred guys all have to go through exactly the same.

STEVE MONEGHETTI, COACH: Everyone says gee what about the smog, what about the pollution, we can't
control that, we can't train for that. But we do know it's going to be very humid, so we can train
for that.

PAUL LOCKYER: Each day the authorities anxiously wait for the latest reports from Beijing's
Pollution Monitoring Centre which takes readings from 27 sites across the Olympic city.

The results have already sparked drastic action to try to improve air quality in the days left
before the Games. Factories have been closed in the 300km radius around Beijing, and vehicle
numbers have almost been halved. City officials are claiming success.

ZHENG JIANG, BEIJING ENVRIONMENTAL PROTECTION BUREAU (translation): With our great efforts and hard
work I'm totally confident the air quality will meet the national standards set by the Olympic

PAUL LOCKYER: Nevertheless even further measures are planned to cut cars and industry if the haze
which shrouded the city just a week ago builds up again. The biggest test, though, will be for the
marathon runners.

The world record holder in the marathon, Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia, has long had concerns
about the conditions in Beijing. Even suggesting that the event should be run in another country.

Gebreselassie suffers from exercise induced asthma, and he is so worried about the air quality here
that he's pulled out of the marathon. Former Australian champion Rob de Castella never baulked at a
challenge. But he concedes that tackling the conditions in Beijing would've been tough.

ROB DE CASTELLA, OLYMPIAN: I can't think of probably too many places where I would least like to
run a marathon than in Beijing.

DR PETER BAQUIE, AUSTRALIAN OLYMPIC TEAM: It's going to be a gruelling event. And the challenge for
us is when do you intervene in someone who has the jelly legs.

PAUL LOCKYER: Dr Peter Bequie is the medical director for the Australian Olympic team.

DR PETER BAQUIE: You look at it and you can see there's a mist, there's a haze, and understandably
people are concerned.

PAUL LOCKYER: But he's more worried about the debilitating combination of high heat and humidity
than he is about the pollution.

DR PETER BAQUIE: On balance it's gonna be hot. It's gonna be humid, it's going to be testing.

PAUL LOCKYER: The marathon will start in Tiananmen Square at 7.30am, but the conditions can still
be sapping at that time especially if the wind has died and the haze again descends to cloak the

The course runs 42km through streets usually clogged with traffic. To finish at the Olympic

LEE TROOP: When we get into the race and it gets to 30, 35km and you know the pollution might be
starting to affect athletes, you just go to treat it as a war of attrition, and the guy at the end
of the day that's mentally tougher will obviously win.

PAUL LOCKYER: Steve Moneghetti gives no quarter off or on the track. He may have retired from the
top level of distance running, but can still take his place amongst the best of them, as he pushes
Lee Troop through the final stages of his Beijing preparations.

There is much unfinished business here, Troop has had an injury plagued career and is trying to
make amends for disappointing performances at the past two Olympics.

STEVE MONEGHETTI: His determinations to be commended. And it's great for me to be able to think
that through all that adversity he has another chance to have Olympic success.

Troop has even pitched an altitude tent in his living room. While he sleeps, the thin air in the
tent stimulates the production of oxygen carrying red blood cells improving his endurance.

LEE TROOP: I do nine or 10 hours a night at 9,000 to 10,000 feet.

PAUL LOCKYER: Does your baby daughter understand what's happening?

LEE TROOP: No, not at all. She comes in at 7 o'clock in the morning and bangs on the tent and wakes
me up. I'm sure in years to come if she does remember she'll find it quite comical.

ROB DE CASTELLA: Regardless of where he finishes, that he feels as though he has done everything he
possibly could've done. And if that means he has to sleep in an altitude tent in his lounge room
and do all sorts of other acclimatisation on top of his tough training schedule then that's what
he's got to do.

PAUL LOCKYER: One of Beijing's celebrated blue sky days would help.

LEE TROOP: Now I still may have a really, really bad race, but at least I'll know in my heart I did
everything right to try and run well.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Paul Lockyer in Beijing.