Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Olympics: Masking the Controversy

Here, wear this mask. OK, now apologize for wearing this mask.

I’ve met one of the 4 Olympic cyclists who are now infamous for wearing black masks as they arrived at the Beijing airport. I was introduced to Mike Friedman by a mutual friend on a camping trip with my then team, Team Fuji, outside of Brevard, NC. I feel sure he would not recognize my face today, but he may remember that trip. He had just signed his first pro contract with TIAA-CREF. I remember being so impressed that I was camping with a pro cyclist (a short aside: I would soon learn that I was camping that weekend with several pro cyclists, men and women and would realize quickly that cycling is different from other sports in that respect – the pros are very accessible and the community is very tight knit. It’s a lovely thing.).

I was brand new to road racing and had just joined Team Fuji. I didn’t know anyone I was camping with save for Christina DeKraay and our friend Stephen. I remember Mike as a humble guy, clearly uncomfortable with my questions about his newly acquired contract. I have followed Mike’s career since that trip and enjoyed watching his rise to an Olympic Athlete. So, why do I bring this up?

Because Mike and his compatriots (Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed and Bobby Lea) got a raw deal about the masks they wore in Beijing. Let’s forget the fact that these athletes were doing what many of China’s own citizens do daily. Instead, let's look closer at The United States Olympic Committee. After the incident, the USOC's Steven Rousch called the athletes a disgrace and then forced them to draft an apology or risk being removed from the Games (how very Totalitarian of him). The really, really shitty and ironic thing is it was the USOC who provided the masks. And it was the USOC’s Chief Physiologist, Dr. Randy Wilbur, who recommended the athletes wear those masks in a polluted environment when not training. So, Mike and his buddies were doing as they were told and then got slapped in the face by the very people who told them to do it. Instead of coming to thier defense, the USOC left the 4 out in the cold to bear the burden of public harassment on a global scale by themselves - each of them in their first ever Olympic Games.

The USOC really botched the handling of the matter. Mike, Sarah, Jennie and Bobby deserve a public apology.

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