Out-of-towners training for this past Sunday's Beijing International Marathon might have been wise to include a pack of cigs in their daily regimen. For the sake of acclimation.
Though the US Embassy in Beijing called the air pollution level hazardous, marathon organizers went ahead with the event, saying it would be too difficult to cancel or reschedule. About 30,000 runners made their way through the grey miasma, some wearing face masks or full-on gas masks to filter out fine particulate matter.
The World Health Organization set a limit of 25 micrograms of airborne crap per cubic meter, beyond which would be harmful. Apparently the suspension around Tiananmen Square reached 400 micrograms of floating particles per cubic meter.
Some runners dropped out citing breathing difficulties, and the third-place woman, from China, said the pollution prevented her from sweating properly. Ethiopian Girmay Birhanu Gebru won the men's race in 2:10:42, and Fatuma Sado was the first woman in 2:30:03, both running maskless. Results of their drug tests have not been revealed, but they may be the only champions to test positive for coal dust.
What's not immediately visible through the smog is that Beijing is set to host the outdoor World Championships of track and field, nine days of Olympic-style competition including a men's and women's marathon, in late August 2015. The blog Beijing Air Quality Forecast says August is one of the least toxic months of the year though. So that's good.
And there's even more opportunity for athletes to suck in the complicated vapors of China. The city of Guiyang, capitol of Guizhou province in southwestern China, will host the World Cross Country Championships on March 28, 2015. While any city can bid to host the event, it's usually in a country that participates in cross country competitions. I can't recall a Chinese contingent at any previous World Cross Country meet*. The city of nearly 3 million residents scored an Unhealthy rating on the ubiquitous air quality website today.
*I stand corrected. The associate editor at IAAF.org tells me China regularly sends athletes to World Cross, but they haven't won a medal since 1992. All of their medals (one gold, two silver) have come in the junior women's race. In most recent editions of the championships, Chinese athletes have failed to crack the top fifty. At 2006 World Cross, Bao Guiying finished 18th in the senior women's race. They had four top-50 finishers in that race and China finished eighth in the team contest. That was the last time they fielded enough athletes in one race to figure in the team standings (ie, four scorers).