Haile Gebrselassie OUT of the Beijing Olympics - the air pollution is a "threat" to his health
Dramatic news being reported today by news sources is that Haile Gebrselassie,
Gebrselassie had previously mentioned the possibility that he might not run in
"The pollution in
is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42km in my current condition," China
“My current condition”, incidentally, refers to Gebrselassie’s asthma, which he says forced him out of the London Marathon in 2007.
How bad is
It is a radical decision to take, particularly with all of 150 days to go before the Olympic Games. Yes, there are concerns over the pollution, and yes, it's likely that conditions will be difficult in
First, we discussed the likely problems the athletes will encounter in Beijing, and how some nations are planning to send athletes to locations OUTSIDE
However, a few months later, it was being reported that the air pollution situation in Beijing was actually getting worse, with many of the promises about cleaning the air (including the closure of factories in Beijing) being forgotten or ignored in the face of economic pressure to keep factories open. It has been a problem that has plagued the build-up to
A premature decision?
But rather than make this decision now, why not wait out the next three or four months and see how things develop? Consult with an expert or two (because this is an issue where you'd get a sixth and seventh opinion IF you really wanted it) on asthma. Find experts on pollution, as Paula Radcliffe did, and see whether there is a contingency plan that might allow you to run and challenge for what is really the only major title or accolade you're still missing?
The British Olympic team even announced that they would provide masks to their help their athletes breathe more easily if required. Perhaps Gebrselassie has done all this, and the advice he received is that there is no way he'll be able to run in
For the reality is that Gebrselassie has achieved pretty much all he can in international running, apart from winning the Olympic Gold in the marathon. It's a goal he himself has expressed on many occasions and it really does seem peculiar to me that he could so easily let go of the goal.
Instead, his manager Hermens is quoted as saying:
"He doesn't want to put his career in danger and he still wants to run at the 2012 Olympics in London. His dream is to run in two hours and three minutes and to be the first to do that. It's more important for him than to win another gold medal."
The pollution - an unknown quantity
Quite what the long term implication for his health is is difficult to know - certainly, his career would hardly seem in danger if he raced in Beijing. His marathon race, yes, but to suggest that his long term health would be affected is a little extreme. The worst that would happen would be that he could not breathe, and so he'd stop and pull out of the race within the first 10km, and live to fight another day - there's no reason to believe that his 2012 race is at stake thanks to the Beijing air of 2008.
Then again, I'm not sure that elite athletes have ever been exposed to the kind of pollution they'll encounter in Beijing, so the Olympics will be interesting simply from that point of view. Perhaps Gebrselassie tried to jog on a recent trip to Beijing, and found that he simply could not breathe - his mind may have been made up by his lungs!
However, it would seem to be a question of priorities, which is a deviation from the usual line given by athletes (including Gebrselassie) that the medals are more important than the records. Of course, it's Gebrselassie's choice, and good luck to him going for that 2:03 marathon (that is another issue altogether - we've discussed the chances of a 2:03 before). But it certainly is a shame, and hopefully, that 1% chance will still come into play and we'll see Gebrselassie on the roads, rather than the track, in Beijing.
If not, then it's the 10,000m event, as Gebrselassie has announced his intention is to qualify for Ethiopia's team for the 10,000m race in Beijing. This might be part of the reason for such an early announcement - perhaps he felt he needed to make the decision this early to allow him to adjust the training leading into the European summer. However, even that doesn't quite ring true, and I can't help but wonder whether the decision is really as simple as saying that he has other goals, and he is concerned over his health...is there any chance that in two months' time, Gebrselassie will announce that he's changed his mind and WILL in fact run the marathon in Beijing? It would not be the first time that he'd announced his "absence" from a major championships, only to be "persuaded" to go after all...
Suspicions and questions - a valid reason?
Such is the climate around international sport these days, that there is already lively debate and cynicism about the given reason. Does Gebrselassie really have asthma? Or is this an excuse not to be tested by drug control authorities? The problem with that "conspiracy theory" is that Gebrselassie has announced that he'll try to run the 10,000m race in Beijing instead, where he'd be tested anyway. So scratch that theory off the list.
There's actually a great deal of controversy around the drug testing issue and asthmatics, incidentally - for example, if you take an average sample of people and compare it to a sample of Olympic athletes, you find that often, the Olympic group will have a much higher incidence of "asthmatics" - if , that is, you choose to believe all the medical clearances that are issued giving them exemption to use inhalers (which are otherwise banned). But again, the fact that Gebrselassie is not pulling out of the Olympics, but just the Marathon, would suggest that the drug theory is slightly misplaced, on this occasion anyway.
As for where this leaves the marathon, well, it's dramatically weakened by his absence. His anticipated race against the Kenyans, whoever they chose, was due to be a real highlight of the Beijing Games. The marathon will be somewhat lacking its lustre if indeed he doesn't change his mind. So a real shame for the Olympic Games, and let's hope that it's a premature decision and that he announces that he will, after all, take his place in the race come August.
Air Pollution in Beijing: Symptoms and issues facing athletes in Beijing
Olympic events in danger: Athletes will need masks in Beijing