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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beijing suffers the curse of the Olympic city

By Richard Spencer in Beijing

Beijing suffers the curse of the Olympic city
Workers at Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' Stadium wait for custumers at a photo booth that allows them to be photographed with the Olympic torch and stand on the winners podium Photo: AP

Three months after the end of the games, new figures show the "Olympic Effect" has been short-lived and hotels are empty, industrial output has fallen and the streets are quiet.

Much of the pain is due to the worldwide financial crisis – and in some cases due to brave decisions by the government to keep polluting industries shut to spare the environment.

But even the biggest single symbol of the modern rise of China, the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium, stands forlorn, largely unused except for a shrinking number of tourists.

Attempts to attract the city's main football team to move to the ground have failed – it is simply too big for the club's crowds. Instead, it charges 50 yuan – around five pounds – per person to come and stand where Usain Bolt and others touched glory in the summer.

Henry Zhang, deputy head of the Stadium's management firm, said he was concerned about whether it would recoup its investment. "I have been worried and I'm still worried," he said.

"The situation is OK at the moment but we are calling it 'Ju An Si Wei' – 'Enjoy the calm but prepare for danger'."

Other countries have suffered post-Olympic blues, a warning to Britain's own planning for London 2012. The huge investment in facilities and transport comes to a sudden end, and if alternative uses cannot be found for the venues, they can seem like expensive white elephants.

But China was forecast to avoid the fate of Australia and Greece after the Sydney and Athens Games of 2000.

The amounts being spent on Beijing, though on the surface huge at between 25-40 billion pounds, were dwarfed by sums being spent countrywide in a large and booming economy on roads, airports and new factories.

Unfortunately, the figures show that in some ways the Olympics may have actually contributed to a downturn.

Hotel occupancy rates have been lower than managers hoped for most of the year, something blamed on a more restrictive visa regime for foreigners and other measures aimed at tightening security.

Now, though China's economy is still supposed to be growing nine per cent every year, hotel prices in the capital are actually falling as rooms empty.

The average in November was more than seven per cent down overall, and 13 per cent for five star hotels. Many of the new luxury palaces opened specifically for the Games are less than half full.

That is partly because the tourists are staying away – there were a fifth fewer foreign tourists in November compared to last year.

"There was a pickup in September and October, but since then is when the credit crunch has come down on everybody," said Cary Gray, manager of the St Regis, a five-star hotel in the embassy district used to hosting world leaders such as Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger.

It underwent a 18 million pound refit before the Games, but is now on average two thirds empty.

Many Beijingers are enjoying the increased number of "blue sky" days – days when the air meets China's own standards for pollution. A number of factories which were closed down for the Olympics have not been allowed to reopen, including concrete factories inside the fifth ring road and chemical plants that do not meet new pollution standards.

But those hoping for an Olympic dividend have been disappointed.

"There was a primary school athletics contest here, and I've heard they want to arrange a concert for next year" said Zhen Yan, a woman running a photo stall at the Bird's Nest, supposedly one of the world's greatest sports stadiums.

"But that's it. And the visitors are getting fewer and fewer."

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Roethlisberger’s Injury Highlights Nerve Center for Head Trauma

Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with Dr. Joseph Maroon, being taken away after sustaining a concussion.

By ALAN SCHWARZ

When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sustained at least the third concussion of his career on Sunday and was carried off on a stretcher, endangering his availability for his team’s first playoff game on Jan. 11, he was whisked not just to a local hospital but straight into Pittsburgh’s notable history with brain injuries.

The former Steelers Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk died before the age of 51 and were later found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, degenerative brain damage similar to that found in boxers with dementia. Those findings and those involving two other N.F.L. players have convinced many experts that football’s repeated and often undiagnosed head trauma can cause significant long-term damage.

The Steelers’ concussion-management team — the neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon and the consultants Mark Lovell and Micky Collins — has, however, spent more than 10 years developing the computer-based neurological test now used by hundreds of high school, college and N.F.L. teams to avoid further injury. That visibility has helped their practice at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center attract football players ages 8 to 38 from across the country, making Pittsburgh the virtual hub of modern concussion management.

That the Steelers have had three of the five known N.F.L. cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy is largely coincidental. The Webster and Long discoveries were made only on a hunch by a neuropathologist working in a coroner’s office near Pittsburgh, where the two players had died. Moreover, experts have said that the findings were evidence of football’s overall danger rather than neglect by Steelers personnel.

Roethlisberger has sustained at least two concussions on the field and one in a motorcycle accident since 2006. Little has been revealed about his treatment and prognosis, other than the repeated optimism of Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, because team policy forbids public discussion of specific player injuries.

Maroon, the Steelers’ neurosurgeon since 1981, was authorized to speak only generally about concussions and his approach to them.

He is the only member of the Steelers’ concussion management team to care for Webster (who played for the team from 1974 through 1988), Long (1984-91) and Strzelczyk (1990-98). He said that their brain damage would not affect his handling of any current player, including Roethlisberger.

“They all played in a different era,” Maroon said. “Particularly Webster and Long, they played before there was neuropsychological testing, and all teams in the N.F.L., with concussions, kind of shook it off.”

He added, “I’m terribly concerned that we utilize all tools to make certain as best we can with the knowledge we have now.”

Maroon, a member of the N.F.L.’s 14-member committee on concussions, also noted that it was unknown whether Long’s suicide by drinking antifreeze and Strzelczyk’s steroid use might have factored in their brain damage — a contention outside experts doubted at an N.F.L. conference in 2007.

On Sunday, Roethlisberger was tackled hard by two Cleveland Browns, slamming the back of his head against the turf and lying inert for more than 10 minutes.

Normal Steelers procedure is for the player to sit on the bench and be questioned about his location, identity, the play and so on, to gauge any amnesia. Motor and sensory tests are typically followed by more memory exercises, and doctors ask if the player has any nausea, a severe headache or visual distortion.

Even if he passes all tests, Maroon said, the player sits for 15 minutes and then is retested, both before and after physical exertion, to see if symptoms return. If they do not, he can return to the game — a practice the N.F.L. claims is safe for its players but is known to be dangerous for amateur athletes. Anything but the slightest concussion, Maroon said, calls for the player to leave that game permanently.

Roethlisberger was injured shortly before halftime and did not return. He has not made any public comments since.

Every player suspected of having a concussion would later undergo the ImPACT neurological test, Maroon said, sometimes after the game but usually the next day. The 20-minute computer test more objectively evaluates memory, brain processing and visual motor skills. If the player scores significantly lower than his baseline number from the preseason, he is to be held out of practice because his brain is considered more susceptible to another concussion and greater damage.

Given that Roethlisberger was immediately taken to a local hospital, it is highly unlikely that he had taken an ImPACT test before Tomlin addressed the news media after the game and characterized the injury as relatively mild. Tomlin said, “He is not permanently injured or scarred at this point — he just has a concussion.” He also expressed optimism that Roethlisberger could return to practice in several days.

Several concussion experts, including the former Steelers doctor Julian Bailes, bristled at Tomlin’s remarks. They said that concussions could not be deemed fully healed for at least two or three days and that Tomlin’s immediate, public optimism — while not uncommon — misrepresented the seriousness of brain injuries.

“Research has shown that symptoms and manifestations of concussion can become apparent days later and are not always apparent immediately following the injury,” said Bailes, the chairman of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, who served as a Steelers team doctor from 1988 to 1998. “Why the rush to judgment? I think it’s a disservice to the science. If the public doesn’t realize — players, coaches, parents, trainers, fans — that concussions can have later manifestations, it can present a real danger.”

On Tuesday, Tomlin said he had merely repeated what a team doctor or trainer told him. He added: “If somebody sustains a concussion, usually it’s 48 hours turnaround before you get some evidence of what they’re capable of being. They had enough information at that point to lead them to believe he might be capable of doing it this week.”

Roethlisberger sat out practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, and his status remains uncertain. Maroon did not say what tests he had taken and when, but he said it was the Steelers’ procedure to give another ImPACT test two days after the first. If all objective and subjective signs of injury are gone, the player is cleared to practice, he said.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu went through this process in October, when he sustained a concussion against Cincinnati and missed no subsequent practices. He never appeared on the N.F.L.’s three mandatory injury updates for that week, indicating the team’s conviction that he would play that Sunday.

“Concussions are weird in the sense that you don’t know the severity of it,” Polamalu, who has had six documented concussions since high school, said this week. “You can’t really measure it too much. Not only that, it’s the worst injury you can sustain in sports. You can live life without legs, your arms, but it’s hard to go on in life without your mind.”

As for how the mounting concussion histories of players like Polamalu or now Roethlisberger might cause long-term cognitive problems, the N.F.L.’s committee on brain injuries has consistently contended that there is no known risk.

A pamphlet the league gives all players states, “Current research with professional athletes has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems if each injury is managed properly.” This claim has been widely disputed by outside experts — including Bailes, who co-authored several survey-based studies that found a heightened incidence of cognitive impairment, depression and dementia among retired N.F.L. players who recalled having many concussions.

“What are the effects going to be 20 years from now? Thirty years from now?” Bailes said of Roethlisberger. “What are the long-term implications for him? It’s not just the rush to get him back for the playoffs. There are great concerns about these things.”

Maroon again declined to discuss Roethlisberger specifically, but he countered that each player and concussion required individual scrutiny and care. “There are so many factors that have to be considered,” Maroon said, adding that all decisions would be made in Roethlisberger’s best interest.

All of those considerations and more will be made with Roethlisberger this week. The only signal that Roethlisberger himself has given came on Sunday: Lying supine on the stretcher, he flashed to the home crowd and millions of fans on television a gutsy thumbs-up, the sign everyone wanted to see.

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Peyton Manning wins third MVP

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Peyton Manning led the Colts to nine straight wins after starting the season 3-4.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Peyton Manning took a different approach to earning a record-tying third Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award.

The Indianapolis Colts quarterback got hurt, struggled when he came back, then lost a bunch of games. Hardly vintage Manning.

But when he rediscovered the touch that has made him one of football's dominant players for a decade, Manning and the Colts were virtually unstoppable.

Now Manning can tell Brett Favre to move over and make room for him atop the roster of MVPs.

"I really feel like it's a team award," Manning said Friday. "Just what our team went through this year and the way we responded and bounced back to a little bit of football adversity at the beginning of the season, being 3-4.

"It's been the most rewarding regular season that I've been a part of in my 11 years, and I have to believe a lot of the other players and even coaches might feel the same way."

Manning received 32 votes in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. He also was the league MVP in 2003, when he shared it with Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, and in 2004.

Favre, then with Green Bay, took MVP honors in 1995 and '96 before sharing it with Detroit running back Barry Sanders in 1997. The award has been given by The AP since 1961.

Manning finished far ahead of Miami quarterback Chad Pennington and Atlanta running back Michael Turner, each with four votes. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison and Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson each got three votes. San Diego QB Philip Rivers (2), Tennessee rookie RB Chris Johnson (1) and Arizona QB Kurt Warner (1) also earned votes.

"I'm honored to receive this award because of the number of other worthy candidates who had some great years," Manning said. "It was just fun for me, truly, to watch them. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Manning has been part of a most unusual season for the Colts, who normally have the AFC South just about clinched by Thanksgiving. Manning had two operations on his left knee in the preseason, cutting into practice time, blunting his usual precision as a passer and, eventually, leading to that 3-4 start.

From there, with Manning getting sharper by the week, the Colts won nine straight games to secure a wild-card berth and a meeting Saturday night with San Diego.

In that streak, Manning is 209-of-290 for 2,248 yards and 17 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He extended his NFL record with his ninth 4,000-yard season and finished with 27 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions and a 95.0 passer rating.

"In other years, everything started fast," Colts running back Dominic Rhodes said. "He's still breaking records. But this year, there were a bunch of negative things said in the beginning, and he brought his best when we needed his best. This is probably the best ball I've seen him play."

The folks in Indianapolis might take for granted having Manning behind center, just as Packers and now Jets fans have assumed Favre would be there every week. Favre has started 269 straight regular-season games, the record for quarterbacks. Manning's string is 176 -- every game since he was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft.

The Mannings, of course, are the first family of NFL quarterbacking, from father Archie to Peyton to younger brother Eli of the New York Giants.

"To be able to come back and play the way he has, especially the last nine or 10 weeks where they have been winning and getting into the playoffs, I'm very proud of him and the season he has had," said Eli Manning, the MVP of last February's Super Bowl.

Added Peterson, the league's leading rusher: "I know Manning is definitely worthy of the award. He's an outstanding player and I take my hat off to him."

Copyright 2009 Associated Press.

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Avalanche survivor tells of 'gut wrenching' decision to leave eight friends buried in the snow

By Daily Mail Reporter

A man who survived a huge avalanche in which eight of his friends were buried alive has described the decision to leave them behind as 'gut-wrenching'.

Jeff Adams was snow-mobiling with a group on Sunday afternoon east of Vancouver in Canada when one of the machines became stuck.

As they battled to release it, an avalanche rocked the mountainside and buried seven of them in snow.

The other four started to help them out but as they did so, another stronger avalanche swooped down and covered them all in 15ft of snow.

Survivor: Jeff Adams, third from left, with his wife and father was among the 11 hit by avalanches. Only he and two others emerged alive

Survivor: Jeff Adams, third from left, with his wife and father was among the 11 hit by avalanches. Only he and two others emerged alive

Fighting back tears, Mr Adams described how he and the two others who survived managed to dig themselves out with their bare hands.

'I managed to pull to the surface. When I opened my eyes, I managed to see daylight," he said.

'I was already choking. I took a few breaths, after a few minutes of struggling, I got myself out.

'I looked around and realized there wasn't anyone else. I couldn't see any sleds so I yelled, someone yelled back and that's when I went and found Jeremy (Rusnak).'

Without gloves or equipment, which were lost in the snow, Mr Adams dug out his friend with his hands.

After a third avalanche missed them, the two friends dug out another of their group, James Drake.

But in a scene reminiscent of the story behind hit film Touching the Void, the three then decided they had to leave the rest behind or risk their own lives again.

Search: Rescue workers board a helicopter as they set off to find the bodies of the group who were swept away by the avalanches

Search: Rescue workers board a helicopter as they set off to find the bodies of the group who were swept away by the avalanches

'It was unsafe to go in there and that's when we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to leave our eight friends and start walking off the mountain,' he said.

'After we walked for 10 minutes or so, I contemplated going back. As I turned to look at the mountain, the whole thing came burying down so we decided our best bet was to keep walking."

The three were eventually rescued by helicopter and their friends were found dead later, their bodies scattered over an area the size of a football field.

Mr Adams went back with the search team as they looked for bodies, to see the site again.

He said: 'It was very tough to look at the scene, to see how deep some of my friends were buried, to realize how close they were to the spot that I was.'

Survival: A scene from Touching the Void, a documentary based on the real life story of a climber who left his friend behind when he fell down a crevace

Survival: A scene from Touching the Void, a documentary based on the real life story of a climber who left his friend behind when he fell down a crevace

The loss of the eight men, all lifelong friends and experienced outdoorsmen, devastated their nearby town of Sparwood, population 4,000.

'This is a sorrow that flows like the Elk River. We all feel it,' said Pastor Shawn Barden of Fernie Baptist Church during a memorial service.

Mr Adams added: 'They died doing what they love.'

The heart-breaking choice he had to make echoes that from the documentary Touching the Void, which is based on a real-life story.

Climber Simon Yates was forced to cut the rope linking him to friend Joe Simpson after Joe fell over the edge of a cliff in the Peruvian Andes.

Unable to hold on any longer, he knew that if he did not slash the line between them that they could both fall to their deaths.

Miraculously, Simpson survived despite being seriously injured and managed to make his way back to camp.

Their journey was catalogued in Simpson's book Touching the Void which was later made into a film.

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