(With update, below)

I see from outside-world reports that Justine Henin might give up the chance to defend her Olympic gold medal in tennis, because she is so concerned about what the air in Beijing might do to her lungs. She has asthma and recently had to drop out of the last tournament she attempted to play here.

As noted earlier, I am against the idea of any threatened official boycotts of the Olympic games. The Beijing Olympics have become (despite many local grumbles) a source of pride for Chinese people broadly, not just for the regime. But I wonder whether we'll see many more individual "boycotts" of the sort Henin has mentioned.

Perhaps not, since this step is easier for a tennis player to take than for just about any other athlete. Big-time tennis stars are individual performers rather than team players; they have a tournament every week and a hugely-hyped Grand Slam four times a year; if they want to play for their country, they've got the Davis and Federation Cups; the Olympic title is a nice little fillip but not really what the sport (or their career) is about. It would be as if golf were added to the Olympics and Tiger Woods tried to see how it fit his schedule.

Things are completely different for swimmers, gymnasts, most track-and-field athletes, wrestlers, rowers, etc. For them to skip the Olympics would be a profound sacrifice and perhaps a blow to the national team's chances. So maybe this will be a case of one. Or one of a few, if some NBA players pass.

But still I wonder (as promised, without adding any pictures) why the Olympic committee isn't operating on emergency footing, as if the impending Games faced a truly dire threat.

I can understand why it's not perceived within China that way. As best I can tell from English and Chinese-language news sources here, so far there's been no mention of Justine Henin's comments.*

* For anyone interested, I searched Baidu's and Google's Chinese-language sites for combinations of 海宁, the Chinese rendering of Henin's name; and 网球, tennis; and 北京奥运 the Beijing Olympics. There are stories about her tournament results etc, but I, at least, haven't found anything about her changed Olympic plans. The English-language, state-controlled China Daily did say something about Henin's withdrawal from the China Open two months ago. According to them, it was because of a "respiratory infection."

Update: Unsurprisingly, my awareness of what has shown up in the Chinese-language press is not the same as what has actually shown up there. Joel Martinsen, of the invaluable (English-language) China-related website Danwei.org, has written to point out several blog and online accounts of Henin's announcement, and her reason. His note:

I ran across a report on Henin's statement a few days ago; searching just now (keywords 海宁 空气) it seems that it's mostly the web portals that picked it up - Netease, QQ and such - rather than the mainstream press.
In print, there was a report in a Yunan paper that drew a letter to the editor in the Oriental Morning Post, and Titan Sports ran an opinion piece that saw Henin's remark as strategizing for next year's tournament season, and then used the occasion to review all of the improvements that Beijing has made to its air quality (the article concluded with the observation that most foreigners draw their impressions of Beijing's air from the insides of smokey taxis, and they really have no hard evidence that it's all that bad out in the open:
http://sports.tom.com/2007-11-07/0JKJ/09572241.html ).


This link is to an item in Chinese, which does indeed worry that "foreign friends" will base their concerns about Beijing's bad air on being stuck in taxis while the driver puffs away. Interesting hypothesis! But it also points out various improvements the city should make. Thanks to Joel M for this info.

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