The 34th Beijing International Marathon was held on Sunday — an event long-planned by the government to highlight its economic development and tourism. It did not work out quite that way. Instead of a marathon, the race looked like a competition to see who could hold their breath for over 26 miles after pollution levels surpassed the hazardous level. It looked more like a medical emergency with hundreds of runners using oxygen masks to breath and using sponges to clean off pollution on their skin. The government of course reported only “moderate” pollution. When the Chinese government says that pollution is moderate, it may be time to be a couch potato at home like this lovely couple.
The marathon began in Tiananmen Square. When I last visited the square I could not see a quarter of the way across due to pollution.
While the Chinese Athletic Association and the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports, said “there might be slight or moderate smog,” most citizens rely on the U.S. Embassy’s readings which reported the air as “hazardous” to breath. The air measured 344 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 particulate matter. That is roughly 14 times the level of 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization. Most would say that people should stay inside in such hazardous conditions but the Chinese government called it moderate and held a marathon with thousands sucking in such hazardous air for over 26 miles.
The organizing committee did make 140,000 sponges available at supply stations so runners could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air.” Lovely.
I suppose it is more historically consistent to hold such races in Beijing since the original marathoner, the Greek soldier Pheidippides, died after running from Marathon to Athens.