Air Quality: An Olympic-Sized Challenge

Gerri Rivers Health Guide
  • The 2010 Winter Olympics are here. This is an exciting time for athletes, spectators and countries. Eyes are on Vancouver as an influx of tourists, Olympic staff, medical teams and high-caliber athletes from all over the world attend.

    Other than the training of the athletes, building of the facilities, and organizing of the teams, there is another concern that has the Olympic community asks, “What is the air quality?” Typically, the cities that are chosen are large, well-populated locations. With those characteristics come industry, high traffic and air pollution. From the point of view of the athletes, trainers, coaches and medical staff, air quality can negatively impact high level athletic performance. Questions began to circle around how to keep athletes safe, healthy, and breathing well. This year’s 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are no different. Over the past several months, concerns over athletes and air quality have circulated.

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    In 2008 when the Olympic Games were in Beijing, China, there were major concerns regarding the well-known poor air quality and how the respiratory systems of athletes would fare in the pollution. Studies, sometime secretively, were conducted by environmental representatives from several countries. Research and development of special masks that could be approved by the Olympic Committee and worn by Olympians was conducted. Questions into whether the Olympics should be held in Beijing were asked. Similar concerns were heard around the Olympic Games in Los Angeles (1984), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), and Athens (2004).

    One thing learned from the post-Olympic Beijing air pollution studies include the fact that the poor air quality did not negatively impact the athletic performances as much as once thought. However, this may have been because the interventions that were implemented (i.e., alternate training locations, masks worn in non-competition situation, reduction in vehicle traffic, closing of industry plants). Some of the other symptoms that were experienced include eye irritation, sore throats, chest tightness, rashes, and asthma symptoms.

    It is reasonable to see why concern over athletes with current asthma exists. If an athlete already experiences symptoms that can affect performance, shouldn’t they be at a greater risk from poor air quality? When reviewing current studies, guidelines and other research, the best way to handle the Olympic air quality dilemma is to avoid the poor air quality when possible, properly diagnose and current asthma, allergy and lung conditions, and properly remove from danger and treat any athletes in distress. Hopefully, as in most of the other Olympic locations, the impact actually experienced related to air quality will not be as bad as predicted.

Published On: February 16, 2010