When four US cyclists arrived in Beijing, they were wearing black masks over their mouths and noses. The United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) lead exercise physiologist advised athletes to wear masks on the plane and as soon as they set foot in the airport in Beijing. It all has to do with pollution and how the air quality is much poorer there as compared to the US. The athletes thought it wasn't that big a deal, until they heard that photographs of them in their masks were all over TV and the Internet.
Cyclist Mike Friedman said,
"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.”
Unfortunately, some USOC officials didn't agree with the mask idea and were not pleased with the cyclists' decision because they felt it may embarrass or offend China. Beijing is one the most polluted cities in the world, and it has taken measures to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics by shutting down or moving factories. Even cars were advised to be on the road on alternate days. For my take on the situation, and to watch a video about Beijing's air pollution, read more.
Unfortunately, you can't fix the problem of pollution in a short amount of time, and since the sky still seemed thick with gray smog, the athletes made the decision to wear the masks. When athletes came to Beijing earlier for Olympic test events last year, some athletes developed sore throats, chest infections, and allergic reactions. They just didn't want to take that chance again.
What do you think about athletes wearing masks to protect themselves from pollution? Is it a slap in Beijing's face, or do you agree that they should be able to wear these masks freely? Do you even think the masks help? For more info, check out this video, and then share your thoughts in the comment section below.