Wearing Masks, Losing Face

To wear or not to wear a mask, that is the dilemma many Olympic athletes will be faced with in a couple of weeks when the Summer Games commence in Beijing. From The Wall Street Journal:

Chinese officials insist the notorious Beijing air will be cleaner by August, making such contraptions unnecessary. Concerned about the pollution, the U.S. Olympic Committee is distributing a high-tech mask, developed in secrecy, to its more than 600 Olympians. If athletes deploy it, they risk insulting the hosts. Then there’s the geek factor.

“I probably will want to wear it,” says the 26-year-old Mr. Shoemaker, who plans to have his mask on nearly all the time he’s in Beijing when not competing. “Whether I will be allowed to is a different issue.”

Though the practice is less common today, Chinese for years have worn masks to protect their lungs from the country’s heavy dust and pollution. But foreigners wearing them during the Games this summer — particularly at the opening ceremony broadcast to billions of television viewers around the world? That’s a different matter.

Having foreigners cover their faces at the Olympics could mean a loss of face for the Chinese. “When you’re walking around with a mask on, you’re basically saying, ‘You guys stink,’ ” says Scott Schnitzspahn, performance director of the U.S. triathlon team.

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