Aug. 9, 2008
FEELING THE HEAT
Altidore: Heat, pollution affects players
Tianjin, China -- Holding a major athletic competition in cities that rank high in the world's air pollution list is a risky proposition, to say the least.
After all, how can you tell athletes to take in as much air as possible when it carries who knows what heaven knows what?
At the Beijing Summer Games, we get the Chinese version of the three H's -- heat, humidity and horrible air -- that can make like unbearable for anyone, let alone athletes trying to perform their best at the Olympics.
This city seems to have a constant haze hovering above it with gray skies usually the norm. Some citizens wear cloth or plastic gas masks and some bicyclists wear a visor, apparently to keep out some unusual glare and to protect their eyes from some type of pollution.
According to Fareed Zakaria's book, "The Post-American World," only one percent of China's 560 million urban residents "breathe air considered safe by European Union standards."
"After a week of acclimation, you get used to it," said former New York Red Bulls defender Jozy Altidore, who recently was transferred to Villarreal (Spain) for an American soccer record $10 million. "But it's not easy. With these conditions, even the team that plays the best soccer doesn't always win."
FC Toronto defender Marvell Wynne has noticed the difference. At night many visitors can see dust in the air when the light refracts off the floating particles.
"It's different from the air quality back in the states," he said. "We have to do a little adjusting. It's not a thing to get used to quickly or take a pill to adapt faster. You have to change our game plan and strategy or we'll be fairly winded."
Add temperatures hovering near the 100-degree mark and high humidity, and it's an awful combination for below-average results at a competition in which records are supposed to be broken.
How bad are the temperatures? The Tianjin Olympic Games weather service put out this forecast for Friday (a rating of one is the best, five the worst):
The heat index was a three, which was called "torrid" by the service with "heat stroke imminent."
The heat wave index also was a third. The service was "great discomfort" and that people should "avoid exertion."
So, just how does a soccer player avoid exertion when he or she is trying to win a game?
"It's hot air you're breathing," Altidore said. "It's not easy."
Wynne agreed. "It's tough," he said. As you notice during the game, any time there is a break, we walk over to get some fluids."
Captain and veteran forward Brian McBride, the oldest men's player (36) at an Olympics since the Under-23 rule was instituted, said he was glad the team played at the ING Cup in Hong Kong, where temperatures were in the mid 90s and the heat index was over 100 degrees.
"You've got to be smart about it," he said. "When you've got a chance to move forward, you move forward. You need to keep the ball and a little more time than you need to do."
So, injuries, big or small, for whatever team, can be welcomed by the players to rest and catch their breaths.
No player would want to go through what Dutch midfielder Hedweiges Maduro experienced in his team's scoreless tie with Nigeria Thursday. He was forced to leave the game at halftime because of dehydration.
Wynne has been taking no chances, although he isn't a fish.
"It's as though I'm tired of drinking water, I am drinking so much," he said.