By Nick Mulvenney Via Guardian.co.uk
BEIJING, March 26 (Reuters) - Beijing is not the first Olympic host city to have pollution problems and this year's test events offer a good chance to monitor progress on the issue, says International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge.
The Chinese capital, which will host the Olympics in August of next year, is one of the most polluted cities in the world and is regularly blanketed in thick smog, despite the city government's efforts to reduce pollutants.
"I think it is...important to remember that environmental challenges are not new to the Olympic Games and that athletes and their coaches are very experienced in trying to anticipate the requirements needed for top-level performances," the IOC president said in a series of written replies to questions to mark the 500-day countdown to the Games.
"In Athens, for example, there were issues of heat, and the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympic Games had challenges with air quality.
"These were issues that both the IOC and the respective organisers were conscious of, just as is the case in Beijing, and took the necessary measures to counterbalance."
Rogge said conditions for athletes would be "high on the agenda" next month when the IOC coordination commission made its first visit of the year to Beijing.
"The Beijing organisers are working on a number of contingency plans for the Games and the test events...will be an opportunity to see how these plans will work and if any improvements need to be made to them," he said.
Rogge said it was vital that Beijing organisers learned the lessons from the 26 test events to be held in Beijing this year, starting with the world junior rowing championships in August.
"I have learnt through my Olympic experience that test events are key to the success of the Games," Rogge said.
"Great progress in venue construction should not mean that the organisers lose focus on other areas of Games preparations because it is in the moments when you lose your concentration that mistakes can creep in."
The IOC president again praised the progress made in constructing the venues for the Games, "the most visible sign that preparations are progressing well".
Rogge, who will be back in Beijing for the meeting of the IOC's executive board at the end of April, is confident the Games will have a marked effect on China.
"When the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing in 2001, it did so with the belief that, in addition to the technical excellence of the bid, the Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to the world of sport," he said.
"What I have seen so far and what I look forward to seeing during the forthcoming visit of the executive board confirms that this belief not only still holds true, but indeed grows stronger every day."