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August 10th, 2008:

Air Quality Unfairly Singled Out By Global Media

Air quality unfairly singled out by global media, UN official says

Shi Jiangtao in Beijing – Updated on Aug 10, 2008 – SCMP

The UN’s environment chief questioned the global media’s “frenzied focus” on Beijing and defended the city’s green efforts for the Olympics, which failed to clear smoggy skies in time for the opening extravaganza.

But Achim Steiner, who heads the UN Environment Programme, admitted pollution remained “a huge challenge” for the capital and the whole country, and Games athletes had reason to be concerned.

His remarks came a day after he attended the opening ceremony, arguably the world’s most watched event, which had been held under smog, sweltering summer heat and oppressive humidity.

Thunder showers had been forecast during the opening show, but Xinhua said rain stoppers fired more than 1,100 rockets to seed clouds had helped ward off the showers and ensure a dry opening ceremony.

Athletes began their first day of competition in a mix of sultry, humid and hazy weather, including road cyclists, believed to be among the most sensitive group to air pollution.

Beijing’s air quality was “moderate” yesterday, with the reading for airborne particles, a key pollutant mainly from vehicle exhaust, at 79, down from 96 on Friday, Du Shaozhong , deputy director of Beijing’s environmental bureau, said.

The air cleared a little in the afternoon and rainstorms were forecast in the evening, which meteorologists believed would clean up the smoggy air.

Mr Steiner, also undersecretary general of the UN, said Beijing’s pollution problems had been singled out from a broad range of environmental issues Games organisers had addressed since it was awarded the event seven years ago.

“In some ways, [global media] are focusing on air quality at the expense of many of the environmental benefits that millions of Beijing residents will have after the Games,” he said.

“There are real and understandable concerns for the health of competitors, especially those in endurance and long-distance events … But the current frenzied focus is marked by considerable amnesia.”

He said Beijing was just one of a list of Olympic host cities that had been hit by air pollution, including Barcelona, Atlanta, Seoul and Athens, and had made commendable efforts to deliver on its commitments for the Games. “After all, air pollution was a major concern in Los Angeles 24 years ago,” he said, adding the US city had very unhealthy days for 94 per cent of the Games period according to US environmental standards.

But Mr Steiner said he could not deny China had pollution problems, the result of decades of neglect. “Pollution cost China US$100 billion a year, according to the World Bank, and I believe it is much more. There are 200,000 plus premature deaths as a result of air pollution,” he said.

As part of the green legacy of the Beijing Olympics, he said the city had shown the enormous possibility that the environment could be improved in just seven years. “For other cities in China, there is no reason why they should not accelerate their efforts to deal with their pollution,” he said.

But he said it was still too early to comment on the impact of a flurry of drastic contingency measures, including restrictions on traffic, building sites and factories.

Mr Steiner also announced that China’s superstar basketball player, Yao Ming , had been chosen as UNEP’s first environmental champion, responsible for promoting green ideas around the world.

Sauna-Like Conditions Sap The Will From Road Racers

Favourites among fall guys as Spaniard Sanchez nets gold

Francois Thomazeau – Updated on Aug 10, 2008

A third of the riders in yesterday’s men’s cycling road race failed to complete the course as the humid heat took a punishing toll.

“It was a sauna out there,” complained Latvia’s Raivis Belohvosciks, one of the first of 53 riders to pull out in the gruelling 245-kilometre course that took the 143-strong field past Tiananmen Square to the Great Wall.

Even the biggest names in the peloton, such as Giro d’Italia winner Alberto Contador and pre-race favourite Stefan Schumacher, could not handle the conditions and were forced out.

“I just didn’t have any more strength in the legs,” said Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion.

Schumacher, who had shown impressive form in last month’s Tour winning two time-trials, was a shadow of himself and the Great Wall provided little shade for him to rest under.

“I had a terrible headache. I don’t know where it came from. Probably the pollution,” said the German. “It feels like you’re at 3,000 metres because of the air. You cannot breathe. The air is thick and there is smog. But Wednesday is another day and I hope to have recovered for the time trial. Right now, I’m just knackered.”

Many riders said they had no trouble breathing at first, but struggled to recuperate from their efforts in the descents or the easier sections of the circuit.

“It was more than 40 degrees at the start, there was lots of headwind and what with the jet lag, the humidity and the heat, it was extremely difficult,” said young Frenchman Remi Pauriol, who still managed to reach the finish line.

Yet the riders had been warned and knew what to expect.

“I was worried about the weather, the humidity, the heat and possible dehydration,” said gold medallist Samuel Sanchez of Spain.

To adjust to the conditions, special preparation was required. Team cars were packed with water bottles and ice-packs and the leading riders had left nothing to chance, coming to Beijing in advance. “My preparation was very good,” said Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who took the bronze medal despite having no teammate to assist him. “Since the Tour de France, I have been here. Today, the heat had gone a bit compared to last week and it felt much better.”

The 2006 and 2007 world champion made the Games time trial his main goal of the season and, although he was dominated by Schumacher in the Tour, he looks set to reverse the trend thanks to the climate.

Shattered like the rest of the bunch on the finish line, 14th-placed Frenchman Jerome Pineau saw good reason to rejoice in spite of the exhaustion

“I’m really tired right now. But two weeks ago we finished the Tour on the Champs-Elysees, then this morning we were on Tiananmen Square and six hours later at the Great Wall. What a great job this is!” he said.