Athletes breathe better

With concerns rising about air-pollution levels at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, medical authorities will step up checks on athletes for asthma problems to help better prepare them for the world’s biggest sports event. Vice President of the European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) Nikos Papadopoulos told Kathimerini English Edition that checks on all athletes will be held as part of a process to raise awareness about asthma- or allergy-related problems. «Many athletes have allergies without being aware of it. It first needs to be diagnosed,» he said. «All Greek athletes going to Beijing will be checked before they leave and after they come back. This happened in 2004 but not to the same extent as this time round.» Air quality in Beijing has become a source of concern for athletes taking part in the August games, particularly those exposed to outdoor conditions for many hours. Last month, Ethiopia’s long-distance running star Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer, announced he was pulling out of the marathon fearing his health would be damaged. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge has repeatedly said that events would be postponed if the air quality was poor. However, heat and humidity might be a greater threat than pollution levels. «It is not just a matter of pollution, there are also environmental issues such as dust,» explained Papadopoulos. Data from medical authorities show that asthma is most common among cyclists and mountain bikers and least common in athletes competing in badminton, beach volleyball, table tennis and volleyball. Among the top Greek sportspeople that suffer from the respiratory condition is walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka, who took gold in Athens in the 20-kilometer event, according to EAACI. Other high-profile athletes that reached the top with asthma include Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes and England cricketer Ian Botham. EAACI, a non-profit group, gathered in Barcelona recently together with other medical experts from Europe and America and prepared a manual on proper diagnosis and treatment that also safeguards fair competition. «The message is that all people with or without asthma have the right to take part in sports and can also be medal winners at the Olym-pics,» said Papadopoulos. [email protected]

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