Haile Gebrselassie misses marathon due to pollution

ADDIS ABABA Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:40pm EDT

Ethiopia's marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie crosses the finish line to set up new world record at the 34th Berlin marathon in Berlin September 30, 2007. Gebrselassie said on Monday he would not compete in the Olympic marathon because of fears that Beijing's air pollution would damage his health. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Ethiopia's marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie crosses the finish line to set up new world record at the 34th Berlin marathon in Berlin September 30, 2007. Gebrselassie said on Monday he would not compete in the Olympic marathon because of fears that Beijing's air pollution would damage his health.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie said on Monday he would not compete in the Olympic marathon because of fears Beijing's air pollution would damage his health.

The Ethiopian runner, who suffers from asthma, said he would still compete in the 10,000 meters at the August Games.

"The pollution in China is a threat to my health and it would be difficult for me to run 42-km in my current condition," he told Reuters by telephone.

"But I am not pulling out of the Olympic event in Beijing all together. I plan to participate in the 10,000."

Pollution is a major issue facing Beijing in the run-up to the Games.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge said last year that events such as the marathon could be rescheduled if contingency measures did not have the desired effect.

The IOC would not comment on Gebrselassie's decision but a spokesperson said the committee was satisfied with pollution levels taken during test events.

"We have received new data on pollution and air quality and we are currently analyzing them," IOC spokesperson Emmanuelle Moreau told Reuters.

"From the test events that have taken place so far the levels have been satisfactory."

Gebrselassie called on China to deal with the problem, saying that pollution "would be a hazard to athletes, seriously affecting their performances."

Dube Jillo, technical director of the Ethiopian Athletic Federation, said as far as his federation was concerned Gebrselassie was expected to compete in the Olympics.

"Whether he runs in the marathon or 10,000...would be his own choice," Dube told Reuters.

Rogge told reporters last November in New York that a monitoring system would be set up in Beijing to gauge whether air pollution warranted delaying events.

Events that involve endurance, such as the marathon or cycling distance races, could be delayed for a few hours or until another day, Rogge said.

"During a marathon for more than two hours, riding a bicycle race for five to six hours -- that could be a danger hazard and then we would postpone the race," he said at the time.

(Editing by Trevor Huggins and Padraic Halpin)

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