BEIJING Aug 9 A third of the riders in
Saturday's Olympic men's cycling road race did not finish and
tennis officials said they were considering allowing heat
breaks as Beijing's stifling humidity took a punishing toll on
Temperatures into the high 90s Fahrenheit (above 35
Celsius), suffocating humidity and murky haze have combined to
produce what competitors from several sports says are the most
difficult conditions they have faced.
"It was a sauna out there," said Latvian cyclist Raivis
Belohvosciks, one of the first of 53 riders to pull out on the
gruelling 245-km (152.2 miles) course that took the 143-strong
road race field past Tiananmen Square to the Great Wall.
Some of cycling's biggest names were unable to handle the
conditions, including Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador and
pre-race favourite Stefan Schumacher.
"I just didn't have any more strength in the legs," said
Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion.
Many riders said they had no trouble breathing at first,
but struggled to recuperate from their efforts in the descents
or on the easier sections of the circuit.
"I had a terrible headache. I don't know where it came
from. Probably the pollution," said Germany's Schumacher, who
showed impressive form on the Tour last month, winning two
time-trials. "It feels like you're at 3,000 metres because of
the air. You cannot breathe. The air is thick and there is
The Olympic tennis tournament begins on Sunday and players
preparing this week have found practice sessions a struggle.
"I've never, ever, played in worse humidity than this,
these are extreme conditions," Serbian third seed Novak
Djokovic told reporters. "It's hard to adapt but you can't cry
and look for excuses."
In regular tournaments and grand slams, with the exception
of the Australian Open, there is no provision for men to have
heat breaks, but International Tennis Federation (ITF)
president Ricci Bitti said contingency plans were in place for
"It's within the power of our officiating team to take
measures in case the situation is reaching an unacceptable
level," he told reporters.
"The conditions are not the best, but our players are very
strong. What is important is the health of the player. The
position now is that the health of the players is not at risk
but each sport has some flexibility by the IOC."
Track and field competitors have also been struggling to
prepare for the athletics programme, which gets under way on
"The athletes come in the morning or the evening. Only a
few Africans can stand these temperatures," said Ma Chang,
media officer at Chaoyang Sports Centre, the official training
Czech hammer thrower Lukas Melich, lifting weights in a
tent beside the warm-up track at the stadium, agreed.
"For everyone from Europe this is very hot and humid, it's
terrible," the 27-year-old said.
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman and Nick Mulvenney;
Editing by Alex Richardson)
(For more stories visit our multimedia website "2008 Summer
and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)