U.S. Olympians Brown Bag it to Beijing

By Jason Simpkins
Associate Editor

Chinese officials were put on the defensive yesterday (Thursday) when questioned at a press conference about recent media reports that made it clear the U.S. Olympic team - more than 600 athletes and 400 personnel - would be bringing their own food to the Olympic Games in August.

"There is no need to bring prepared food on the part of athletes as there is a great variety of food to meet everybody's needs at the athlete's village," said Xiang Ping, deputy director of the games services department.

Kang Yi, catering chief of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, said she felt it was "a pity" that the U.S. delegation would be bringing its own food and reminded everyone that no outside food would be permitted into the Olympic Village.

However, according to a report from the New York Times, U.S. athletes and trainers will do most of their dining at the U.S. training headquarters at the nearby Beijing Normal University. There, they will receive three meals a day, each of which will be compliant with the United States Olympic Committee's (U.S.O.C.) nutritional diet plan.

In preparation, the U.S.O.C. has made arrangements with sponsors such as Kellogg Co. (K) and Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) to ship 25,000 pounds of lean protein to China two months before the opening ceremony.

The quality of China's food supply has been repeatedly called into question over the past few years. Some fruits and vegetables were found to contain high levels of insecticides, and meat products have tested positive for illegal veterinary drugs and steroids. U.S. trainers and athletes have expressed concern that such additives could result in illness or a false reading for illegal substances.

Frank Puleo, a caterer working for the U.S.O.C., reported having found a chicken breast that measured 14 inches last year at China supermarket -  "enough to feed a family of eight."

"We had it tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive," Puleo told the Times.

Lu Yong, director of the Beijing Municipal Food Safety Monitoring Group was quick to point out that such concerns have no scientific basis.

"There is no report that we have seen suggesting that athletes who have eaten meat which contains (banned substances) have ever tested positive for drugs," he said. "If you come across such a report let me know."

For China this is yet another bump in the road running up to the 2008 Olympic games.  China was hoping the games would serve as the perfect platform to showcase itself as a modern, sophisticated country and a significant world power. But with about six months left before the games' Aug. 8 kick off, Beijing has run into one roadblock after another.

Last summer, athletes were warned about the dangers of the country's air pollution. In an interview with CNN, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, suggested that some events such as long-distance races might have to be postponed if smog is too heavy during the competition.

Australian IOC member John Coates said he would tell his country's athletes to arrive only four or five days before they compete. Athletes have also been advised to bring their own water to Beijing.

Most recently Steven Spielberg, the acclaimed movie director, stepped down from his role as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Games, after he accused China of not doing enough to press for peace in the troubled Sudanese region.

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