Champion marathon runner Robert de Castella has warned of a huge attrition rate at the Beijing Olympics marathon, because of the chronic air pollution. Current marathon world record-holder Haile Gebrselassie has already announced that he will not run the road race in Beijing because he fears for his health, an outcome that de Castella describes as “a bit of a tragedy”.
De Castella says the conditions are the worst since the 1984 Los Angeles games, at which he ran fifth, despite holding the world record at the time.
De Castella won the marathon at the 1983 Helsinki world championships. He believes the conditions at these Olympics “…will be very, very cruel, and in an event like the marathon it is so tough. I think we will see a huge attrition rate in Beijing, and it’s going to take its toll on athletes.”
This week the Chinese government announced that more than one million cars will be banned from Beijing’s streets during the Olympics in an effort to curb pollution and ease traffic gridlock.
De Castella said he hopes what he encountered during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic marathon will not be repeated in Beijing.
“I suffered considerably,” he said of the Los Angeles Olympics. “By the finish, my right eye had swollen up so I was hardly able to see out of it.
“I think that was a direct result of the pollution, the swelling went down after a couple of days. But given what happened to my eye you have to wonder what was going on with my other functions.
“One never knows for certain how much of an effect those pollutants are going to have, but some individuals are more susceptible than others.
“If all things were equal the best athlete would still win, but any athlete with any respiratory sensitivity will be much more severely affected.”
“It’s sad for the fans and it’s even sadder for him,” de Castella said of Haile Gebrselassie’s decision not to run. “If he won an Olympic marathon gold medal to go with his other medals he would go down as the greatest distance runner the world has seen.”