Summer PA Student-Athlete Delegation to Beijing Met With Thick Smog During Pre-Olympic Visiting

While trying to jog in China last summer, Breezy Jordan ’09 found herself short of breath. Jordan, who traveled to China last summer on a pre-Olympic school-sponsored trip, experienced firsthand Beijing’s poor environmental conditions, which currently pose a threat to the Summer 2008 Olympics. Excessive pollution and Tibetan protests have prompted international controversy over the 2008 Beijing Olympics and even consideration of a boycott. Phillips Academy students on the trip reflected on their experiences with both the environmental and humanitarian issues in China. Dave Holliday ’08, Katie Michaelson ’08, Chris Waskom ’08, Mike Discenza ’09, Breezy Jordan ’09, Eliza Nguyen ’09, Instructor in Math Patrick Farrell, Karen Farrell, Johnson Hall House Counselor, and Gongming Yan, Instructor in Chinese, were selected to attend the program for their athletic interest and involvement. The Phillips Academy delegation, the only group representing the United States, joined student delegations from countries all over the world. The students visited future Olympic athletic venues including the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium and the swimming and rowing locations. The PA delegation also met with Chinese student athletes and stayed at Renmin High School, PA’s partner school in Beijing. Patrick Farrell said, “The only thing we saw in operation was the rowing venue, which was a 45-minute drive out of Beijing, and pretty removed from the heart of the city. It was the first time we saw a clean body of water, and [it was] incredibly impressive,” said Farrell. Farrell said, “When we were there … we tried to go running, and for a lot of people, it was hard for us to even breathe.” He added, “We realized a huge contrast between the U.S. and China. I think pollution is definitely is a big issue – I know a year makes a huge difference and [that] they are trying.” Jordan said, “I don’t know if [Beijing] is going to be super ready [for the Olympics]. I’m a runner, but I also have asthma and bad allergies, and when I came back I had to use a special inhaler.” The pollution is an enormous source of apprehension for Olympic athletes. Not only could respiratory problems hinder athletic performance, but the air pollutants could trigger asthma attacks in athletes who have never had asthma before. “I can’t imagine how [athletes] are going to run the endurance related events, especially the athletes who perform at the high aerobic rates,” said Patrick Farrell. “I continued to run every other day, but half the distance I would usually run.” Michaelson added, “We met with the Olympic committee members and the athletes, and they are very concerned with the air quality. “ She continued, “On the weekends, they shut down the factories, [and] you can actually see the difference in the smog levels. Towards the Olympics, they might shut down some of the major factories to clean the air.” The Tibetan protests have also been a source of controversy surrounding the Olympic Games. Last month, China announced its decision to prohibit live television shots from Tiananmen Square during the Beijing Olympics, for fear of inciting protests in the heart of the city. Many of the government’s methods in suppressing the protests have provoked criticism from human rights groups and countries, including the U.S. and France. Farrell believes the matter is difficult to handle, “because the Olympics are designed to bring nations together, whether it’s a political statement or not, and that’s always a hard thing [to do].” Though the participants did not have any firsthand experiences with the Tibetan protests, they did see the effects of the government policies. Michaelson said, “It was interesting – at the school we went to, we weren’t let outside the gates, because they were guards and [when] we asked the kids in the schools [what the situation was], they were like, ‘I don’t know.’” Nguyen added, “Coming from America, we weren’t used to all the censorship by the Chinese government, like the internet censorship. [Foreigners during the Games] might run into conflicts with the government if they are not used to the policies.” According to the Associated Press, President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge made an official statement on April 6 stating that the pollution in Beijing would not endanger the health of the athletes. Rogge’s statement, however, acknowledged that the poor air quality might hinder their athletic performance. He said that there was “no momentum toward an Olympic boycott over political issues.”