Riders react to Beijing air quality

Four USA track cyclists arrived in Beijing Tuesday wearing masks over their noses and mouths to...

USA track riders arrive in masks

Four USA track cyclists arrived in Beijing Tuesday wearing masks over their noses and mouths to protect themselves from pollution. United States Olympic Committee (USOC) lead exercise physiologist Randy Wilber recommended that the riders wear the masks on the airplane and whenever they went outside. Although the USOC had distributed the masks to the athletes, officials criticised the riders for wearing them, saying it could offend the Chinese.

The four riders were Mike Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed. Two of them wore the masks on the flight, while the other two put them on before exiting the plane.

"This is really a surprise, because I didn't think it was going to be such a big deal," Friedman said, according to the New York Times. "Why we wore the masks is simple: pollution. When you train your whole life for something, dot all your i's and cross all your t's, why wouldn't you be better safe than sorry? They have pollution in Los Angeles, and if the Olympics were in Los Angeles, we would probably wear these masks, too."

Fisher and Lea said that an unidentified USOC official criticised them for walking off the plane with the masks on, saying it could embarrass the host nation.

"They told us that the Chinese were mad and that this is a politically charged issue, but we didn't mean to offend anybody," Friedman said. "When they handed us these masks, they never said, 'Here they are, but don't wear them.'"

Lea added, "It's disappointing, because I was under the assumption that the mask was approved for use because it was issued by the USOC."

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the riders would not be reprimanded and it was thought the athletes would wear the masks around the Olympic Village. "We've said all along that it is the athletes' choice whether to wear one if they feel it's necessary," he said. "I'm no scientific expert, but walking through an airport doesn't seem like the place where it would be necessary to wear them."

Austrian shocked by "awful" air

Thomas Rohregger's first breath of Olympic air was not what he expected. "I hadn't thought that it would be so bad," the Austrian said after his first training ride. "Really awful, my lungs and even my eyes are burning."

Rohregger rode only the flat stretch of the road race course and didn't get into the climbs. "That's why I tried to ride a bit faster. But the pressure on my lungs was nearly unbearable. Three hours of training felt like six hours," said Rohregger to Austrian television sender ORF.

To make matters worse, the riders are transported to and from their training rides in the 33°C heat and high humidity to their air-conditioned lodgings in air-conditioned buses. "They mean it well. But we athletes are very sensitive to such things. I already have a bit of a sore throat and wear a heavy sweater indoors," Rohregger noted. (SW)

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