It appears that the sky over Beijing has cleared up to some extent and there is some optimism that the Olympics will take place relatively pollution free. But athletes are not exactly rushing into China as yet.
The Australian Olympic Committee has decided not to force its athletes to compete if they are concerned about the pollution causing long term harm to their health. Athletes at risk are cyclists, endurance runners, and soccer players. Here is a more dire prediction.
Well, my take is the Olympics are for guts and glory. I still remember the heroics of Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics, tearing his hamstrings in the 400m, crumpling to the track in agony.
On the track, Redmond realizes his dream of an Olympic medal is gone. Tears run down his face. “All I could think was, ‘I’m out of the Olympics — again,'” he would say.
As the medical crew arrives with a stretcher, Redmond tells them, “No, there’s no way I’m getting on that stretcher. I’m going to finish my race.”
Then, in a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions, Redmond lifts himself to his feet, ever so slowly, and starts hobbling down the track. The other runners have finished the race, with Steve Lewis of the U.S. winning the contest in 44.50. Suddenly, everyone realizes that Redmond isn’t dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side of the track. No, he is actually continuing on one leg. He’s going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line. All by himself. All in the name of pride and heart.
Slowly, the crowd, in total disbelief, rises and begins to roar. The roar gets louder and louder. Through the searing pain, Redmond hears the cheers, but “I wasn’t doing it for the crowd,” he would later say. “I was doing it for me. Whether people thought I was an idiot or a hero, I wanted to finish the race. I’m the one who has to live with it.”
I remember Redmond’s father running onto the track and holding his son as he painfully limped along to the finish line. There was not a dry eye left in that stadium or in the millions on TV watching this extraordinary act of courage unfold. It was one of the purest moments in sporting history, one that brought home with stunning clarity, in an all too rare moment, what the Olympics stood for.
Some countries have more ideal conditions than others. None are perfect. China is trying to reduce its pollution in time for the Olympics and there is a chance that seeing more blue skies and its health benefits might have a sobering effect on its government, introducing environmental safeguards even as it continues its blistering pace of industrialization. I know Brazil and Argentina whine about the high altitude being detrimental to their players health every time they play Bolivia at La Paz. FIFA obligingly tried banning high altitude matches to make sure that none of their players suffered a breathless moment. But no player has suffered any adverse health even as both countries have gone onto win 7 World Cups.
So for those doubters, suck it up and remember Derek Redmond.