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A dark cloud over Beijing Olympics

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Scott Jagow: A report out of China today says Beijing will close dozens of gas stations this summer before the Olympics. These stations can’t afford new technology needed to meet air quality standards. Like any other Olympic host, China wants to show off to the world. But Beijing’s pollution might literally cast a pall over these games.

Our business of sports commentator, Diana Nyad, joins us. Diana, there’s been talk of moving some events out of Beijing if enough athletes complain about the air quality. Are they complaining?

Diana Nyad: Yeah, I mean there are a number of athletes. Haile Gebrselassie, who’s the world record holder in the marathon, says he won’t even run in the event. He may not even go the Olympics. He’s got a touch of asthma, and he’s already, you know, sensitive. Some days you’re there, it is a thick, thick fog, so imagine running the marathon or cycling, or any of the endurance events. The woman who’s the world record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, Janet Rollinson, is going to skip the opening ceremonies. She’s going to get there a week late and just arrive right in time for her event, that’s it. And there are a number of athletes who are going to train in Japan. They just don’t want to be there, for their health.

Jagow: I also was reading that they might be wearing masks?

Nyad: A lot of athletes, you know, you see in Asia — and actually, it’s a very polite thing to do. In Japan they wear a, you know, a little nurses’ mask if you’re feeling like you’ve got a cold or something. I wish we would do that more here, if you come to work. But imagine if the scenes of the opening ceremonies, or you know, all those scenes of the athletes, you know, enjoying their time playing video games at the athletes’ village, or there are hundreds of thousands of them wearing white masks with black soot all over the front of them. I mean, that’s going to be a terrible image to be broadcast around the world, and the Chinese are already saying, “We don’t want that.” Well, who’s going to keep the athletes from wearing them — not to mention the spectators?

Jagow: What is China doing in terms of this pollution issue?

Nyad: They’ve got a number of things going on. And, you know, to be fair to them, they will probably assuage the level of pollution quite a bit. They did an experiment back in September — they took four days and they alternated license plate tags. So if you had an even number at the end of your’s, you couldn’t drive this day, you could drive the next day. And they, I don’t know the exact numbers but they reduced a pretty considerable amount of particles per cubic inch in the air. They’re taking a hundred of their factories — of steel, different types of factories that use coal furnaces at the moment instead of natural gas — moving them, literally moving them outside of the city. That’s a huge expense. They’ve got 300 taxis and buses that just for the three weeks of the games will not be allowed to operate, they’re going to put in lesser-polluting vehicles. And there are many Chinese, of course, and those business people who visit China, who will say, well great, maybe this is going to be a wake-up call. And for the future of Beijing, and other Chinese cities with horrible pollution problems, maybe this will be the start to cleaning up the mess.

Jagow: Well, it could be a different kind of legacy for the Olympics.

Nyad: Yeah . . . exactly right.

Jagow: OK Diana, thank you.

Nyad: Thanks Scott, as always.

Jagow: Diana Nyad, our business of sports commentator.

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