On Saturday, August 16 I sat in China's National Stadium for the very first time to watch Jamaica's Usain Bolt literally bolt to the finish line of the 100-meter race, breaking both the Olympic and world records with speed and ease. The fact that Bolt broke a world record challenges popular fears that poor air quality would mean poor performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games:
How the athletes are going to cope with this (air quality) has been a hot topic in sporting circles. The Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, 34, the marathon world record holder, pulled out of the event over pollution concerns earlier this year. On Tuesday the Portuguese cyclist and Athens silver medallist Sergio Paulinho also withdrew from the Games, citing a respiratory problem that he feared could be exacerbated by the pollution," wrote Will Pavia in "Beijing Smog Makes for a Painful Jog.
Gebreselassie and Paulinho may wish they hadn't been so hasty. Other track and fielders besides Bolt have broken records in Beijing running longer distances. Ehtiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba, for example, set a new Olympic record in the women's 10,000-meter race (29:54:66) on August 15, and Russia's Galkina-Samitova set a new world record in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase on August 17.
Fortunately for Beijing, the weather has been on its side as well, in part due to government policies to reduce automobile and factory emissions during the Games. On August 17, for example, marathoners ran in weather cool enough for light jackets. It felt like autumn. The two days before were clear blue and comfortable, as is today (August 18).
Note: Bolt ran to a packed Bird's Nest. Despite recent reports of empty seats at stadiums, I've been to two events that filled up as the events progressed. Friends have reported the same. And despite claims that tickets are sold out, you can buy tickets this late in the game at www.cosport.com. On August 12, two friends bought tickets for August 16 tennis finals. The trick is to refresh the page continually until the event you want is available. It may take up to an hour.)
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