Haile Gebrselassie, one of the world's top long distance runners, has said he will not compete in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics because China's air pollution would pose an unacceptable risk to his health and future career. Nonetheless, he still has plans to participate in the 10,000-meter race.
Haile, who currently holds the world marathon record and a remarkable total of 25 world records, suffers from asthma. He told the press:
"The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42km. ...But I am not pulling out of the Olympic event in Beijing altogether. I plan to participate in the 10,000-meter event."
The Chinese government has already spent vast sums of money (with little success) trying to clean up Beijing's pollution problem. This decision by such a famous athlete was clearly a blow to their pride: transmission from BBC World News was suspended to prevent this story being relayed to domestic Chinese listeners.
Haile's agent has reported that part of the reason behind his client's decision to pull out of the marathon was his determination to improve upon his current marathon world record. Haile is one of only five men in history to run a marathon in under two hours six minutes and he claimed the record last year after running the Berlin marathon in just 2 hours, 4 minutes and 26 seconds (29 seconds faster than the previous world record).
"His dream is to run in 2 hours and 3 minutes and to be the first to do that. It's more important for him than to win another gold medal."