Sierra Scoop: Foothills get a bitter taste of possible Olympic scene

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Placer High’s most decorated alum Stacy Dragila won’t be representing the U.S. at the Olympics this year after she finished seventh at the Trials last weekend. Newcastle native Becky Holliday also came up short in her Olympic pole vault bid and late last month Bear River graduate Paul Litchfield saw his remarkable long-shot at an Olympic berth come up just short. But in a weird, scary way, Auburnites have gotten a taste of the 2008 Olympics over the past several weeks. The air quality index in the foothills hovered between the 200 (unhealthy) and 300 (bordering on hazardous) most of the week. Beijing, China — where the world’s top athletes are scheduled to compete in less than a month — reports readings of over 200 on a consistent basis Air quality is one of the chief concerns of athletes heading to China. The International Olympic Committee and the Chinese government insist the air is better than it appears. Athletes and coaches from all over the world are hoping that’s the case. Chinese officials defended the accuracy of their pollution data in a Wall Street Journal article published Friday. The data provided by China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection showed that the air quality meets national health guidelines nearly 70 percent of the time. The other 30 percent might look something like what we’ve seen over the past three weeks or so in the foothills. Associated Press photos this week revealed an ugly, thick, gray haze in Beijing. World record marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia decided that a shot at an Olympic medal was not worth risking his lungs. An asthma sufferer, Gebrselassie announced he would not run in Beijing in March. Some athletes and coaches have recently suggested they may adjust their schedules to arrive in China shortly before their respective events, minimizing their exposure to the polluted air. Others have even said they may wear protective masks during competition. The International Olympic Committee collected data in 2007 to try to determine the effect of China’s air quality on the competitors. The IOC’s Medical Commission determined that for events like the marathon, cycling, mountain biking and marathon swimming, “there may be some risk.” Not exactly reassuring. China’s government has taken steps to try and reduce the amount of toxins in the air, but so far it appears to be a case of too little, too late. We can only hope the Olympics don’t suffer the same fate as Auburn, which saw it’s two greatest endurance events — Western States and the Tevis Cup — wiped out by wildfires this summer. Todd Mordhorst’s column runs Sundays in the Auburn Journal.