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Heat and humidity, not air pollution to test athletes in Beijing

Heat and humidity, not air pollution to test athletes in Beijing

Heat and humidity rather than air quality will challenge athletes at the Beijing Olympics, says a New Zealand-based meteorologist working for the Canadian Olympic team.
Doug Charko monitored weather and air quality in Beijing last August to produce a model which anticipates conditions athletes may encounter during this year's games.
Charko, who was the meteorologist for sailing's Luna Rossa team at the last America's Cup, found heat, humidity and solar radiation in Beijing were regularly higher than limits specified by the International Amateur Athletics Federation for safe participation in sport.
His studies showed temperatures regularly exceeded 27 or 28 degrees Celsius (80 to 82 Fahrenheit) in August, with high humidity.
"If it exceeds 26, 27 degrees, by the international athletics federation handbook you cannot compete," he said. "And yet we saw that condition in Beijing everyday."
Charko also doubted that efforts by Chinese authorities to curb air pollution would be fully effective. His data showed little recent improvement and further moves by the hosts, to close down polluters within Beijing city and to limit emissions from factories in neighboring provinces, would have a limited effect.
"There is a very slow trend in terms of improvement," he said. "It is having some affect but in a city of 18 million people with a bus fleet alone which numbers around 20,000 vehicles there is only so much you can do.
"The Chinese have been doing a good job but just the sheer volume of emissions make it very difficult to curb."
Charko said the heat was more likely to be a problem for athletes than air pollution.
"Our studies showed that air quality affected oxygen intake by about one or two percent whereas heat stress, as a result of heat and humidity, had an affect in the range of 5 to 10 percent," he said.
Charko said Mother Nature, rather than any man-made efforts, was more likely to mitigate the affects of air pollution.
The quality of the air in Beijing was affected by wind direction and while unfavorable winds could exacerbate pollution, winds from the right quarter could greatly improve air quality.
Concerns were raised over air quality prior to games in Los Angeles in 1984 and Athens in 2004 and in both cases favorable wind conditions alleviated the problem.
Heat was a harder problem to tackle but Chinese authorities had again worked hard to mitigate the worst weather effects. The hosts had learned from tests events held in Beijing in the leadup to the games how to avoid the worst effects of the heat.
Session times had been changed so that the majority of events would take place in the morning and early evening to avoid the heat of the day, Charko said.
Chinese organizers had responded quickly to competitors' concerns about matters such as the availability of ice and had markedly improved their response to conditions.
"I think, as far as the air quality goes, you just have to count on it being not fantastic," he said.
"But as far as what we can learn from the people who have been there, the vast majority have not experienced any ill effects. We have found that people with existing respiratory problems, such as asthma, do have more of a problem."