View Full Version : Masked Cyclists Apologize to Chinese Officials

08-08-08, 04:20
BEIJING — The four United States cyclists who wore pollution-cutting masks as they arrived at the airport here this week

apologized to Olympic organizers Wednesday, insisting that they wore the masks for health reasons and did not mean to insult

the host country.

Mike Friedman was among the four track cyclists who apologized on Wednesday for wearing pollution-cutting masks as they

arrived in Beijing.

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The track cyclists Mike Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed drafted their apology after meeting with Steve

Roush, the chief of sport performance for the United States Olympic Committee.

Their statement, sent through the U.S.O.C., said wearing the masks “was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or

political statement.”

“We deeply regret the nature of our choices,” it said, adding that the choice to wear the masks was not meant to belittle

the Olympic organizers “who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.”

The masks, issued to the athletes by the Olympic committee through USA Cycling, were given to about 200 of the 596 athletes

in the United States delegation, U.S.O.C. officials said. The swimming team was among those teams that brought the masks to

Beijing, one of the doctors working with that team said.

But the cyclists’ mistake, U.S.O.C. officials said, was to wear their masks in the airport. Photographers captured images of

the cyclists as they walked through Beijing’s new airport terminal. In minutes, those photographs were on television and the


“It wasn’t the best judgment at the time, and the athletes understand that now,” the U.S.O.C. chief executive Jim Scherr

said. “We believe that this will be, hopefully, the last incident of this kind. We’re making sure the athletes understand

how their actions are perceived by the host country.”

The U.S.O.C. sent the cyclists’ apology to Wang Wei, executive vice president of the organizing committee for the Games.

Another official from the committee, Sun Weijia, director of media operations for the Beijing Olympics, would not directly

answer whether officials were insulted by the cyclists’ decision.

“We have all along said that it is not necessary for the athletes to wear masks because the air quality in Beijing has

improved,” Sun said. “We have to explain that looks can be deceiving, and that it looks like fog, but actually the air

quality is good.”

Officials in Beijing, which has one of the worst pollution problems in the world, have gone to great lengths to bring clear

skies to the city for the Olympics. Factories have been closed. Cars have been taken off the road. Major construction was


Several U.S. teams are training away from Beijing to stay out of that smog for as long as possible. The swimmers just arrived

this week from Singapore. The canoe and kayak athletes are in Komatsu, Japan. Most of the track team is in the coastal town

of Dalian, China, but the smog has reached that city, too.

On Wednesday, the air looked hazy for the third day in a row here, with air quality ratings in the mid- to upper-80s. That

falls into the “fairly good” category on the rating scale used by China’s ministry of environmental protection. On Sunday,

the rating was 35, which ranked “excellent,” before thick gray air floated in.

Friedman, from Pittsburgh, said he remained cautious about the air quality, even after the group issued the apology for the

masks. At a test event last year, smog covered the city and even seeped into the velodrome. Several of the track cyclists

came down with upper respiratory infections.

“I’m not sorry for wearing the masks at all,” he said. “I’m just very sorry that people thought it was some political

statement. It was so, so far from that.

“It was just so I could prepare for competition in the best way I could. I hope people will understand that we meant no