The media pounced on the story that several American cyclists arrived at the airport in Beijing wearing masks that covered their noses and mouths, and, consequently, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) pounced just as quickly to un-embarrass itself.
The NY Times article linked to above reads:
But U.S.O.C. officials were apparently unhappy with their choice, scolding the cyclists for walking off the plane wearing the masks because it might embarrass the host country, Mike Friedman and Bobby Lea said. The cyclists said they did not remember the name of the official who spoke with them.
Except that the USOC gave them the masks. And told the athletes to wear them if they felt they needed to.
Earlier in the article, Times reporter Juliet Macur writes:
The United States Olympic Committee had issued the specially designed masks to protect athletes from the potentially harmful air here. The U.S.O.C.s lead exercise physiologist, Randy Wilber, had advised the athletes to wear the masks on the plane and as soon as they stepped foot here.
Apparently, the USOC's exercise physiology department isn't communicating effectively with it's p.r. department.
The cyclists did apologize, but it remains to be seen how this will affect the rest of Team USA over the course of the games.
Has the USOC warned other athletes that if they need to wear the masks, they should do so in private? Will other athletes be overly cautious in putting them on so as not to embarrass the Chinese organizing committee?
For the athletes who train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the environment is decidedly different than those who train along the highways of Los Angeles, let alone Beijing. Is it worth not competing at full lung capacity in a race you've spent your entire life training for so as not to embarrass your hosts?