The Chinese government has introduced tough measures to improve the air quality in Beijing ahead of the Olympics. It's forced a million cars off the roads and closed down over 100 factories. Even so, athletes preparing for the Games are worried that smog will have a negative effect on their performances.
Skyline of Beijing
Germany's Olympic canoe slalom team is not impressed by Beijing's air. As team member Alexander Grimm explains: "On days like this, when it's so humid, you notice already when you're paddling that you have problems breathing and that the heat really exhausts you,"
But the slalom canoeists actually have it better than athletes competing in endurance disciplines, says his colleague Andre Ehrenberg: "We do have a small advantage," he says. "Firstly, we only go small distances, and secondly, we have the water, which we can always use to cool ourselves. In these Olympics, I really wouldn't like to compete in a long-distance discipline, where I'd have to breathe in a lot of this air."
Strong winds help
On Tuesday,as athletes continued to arrive in Beijing, while strong winds helped clear away the smog that's been hanging over the city, concerns about pollution remain. But they've known from the start what they'd have to contend with, says canoeist Sebastian Piersig: "Today it's a little windy, you can see a little further," he says, "but otherwise, we knew what to expect: lots of smog. But our sport isn't as taxing as, say, running a marathon."
According to the China Daily newspaper, if the pollution becomes really unbearable, Beijing will implement its emergency plan. This involves banning up to 90 percent of the private vehicles on the city's roads. The Chinese want to avoid pictures of athletes performing in masks, something some US athletes had considered.
Hope for blue skies
Jennifer Bongardt, German canoe slalom world champion, says she can understand their fears: "People are concerned about their own health. But the problem is that you can't really do much about it, and that's probably also something that bothers people. And walking around the whole time with a mask is also pretty inconvenient."
However, if the wind continues to blow from the right direction, Beijing's skies just might be blue in time for the opening ceremony in a week and a half.