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Monday, October 29, 2007

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Will air pollution affect the athletes at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

Some events in the 2008 Summer Games may have to be postponed by a day or two if air pollution in Beijing is excessive, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday. How will all this pollution affect the Olympic athletes?

Scientists haven't done enough research to be sure, but it could make it impossible to break any world records. An athlete must breathe in a large amount of air during a competition—more than 20 times the amount inhaled by a normal person at rest. In Beijing, that means the athlete will be getting a super-sized dose of ozone and fine particulates, which can make respiration more difficult and reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to the muscles. (Other pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide also have negative health effects.)

To make matters worse, some people are more sensitive to air quality than others, so there wouldn't even be a level playing field, just because the contenders are all breathing the same pollutants. And since hundredths of seconds in performance can separate a gold medalist from the bronze, every breath counts.

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Welcome to Olympic Updates, my continuing blog to following the Olympic Games. Founded in 2007, I have enjoyed providing news and information on the 2008 Beijing Summer Games and I look forward to keeping you up to date on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

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