Canadians look to 'weather guy' for edge in Beijing

Doug Charko is getting a read on what Mother Nature is brewing for Canada’s athletes at the Beijing Olympics next year: “I’m the weather guy.”

The 42-year-old meteorologist from Regina is one of 77 Canadian Olympic Committee personnel who are travelling to China during August and September to do their homework on logistics for the Olympics, while supporting the 107 potential Canadian Olympians in China for test events and training camps.

The Summer Olympics open Aug. 8, 2008, but Charko has already started tracking heat, humidity, air pollution, wind and sea currents in order to provide athletes with an idea of what conditions might be like on the day of their competition next year.

“At the level that the top athletes are right now, it is the small difference that can pay off,” Charko said. “A small difference can mean the difference between a medal and no medal.”

Athletes must deal with heat, pollution

The challenge all athletes will face is how to manage their preparation and performance in a climate in which heat and humidity combine to create temperatures in the low 40s and in which air pollution can damage an athlete’s lungs.
Continue Article

“The pollution is a tricky one,” Charko said. "The idea is that people may be able to alter their training schedule a bit and focus on the better days.

“We’re doing this for me to practise and get a good feel for the place and also for the teams to learn how to use that information to their advantage.”

Charko has crunched Beijing weather data from the last 10 years to form a picture of what athletes are up against and says air quality hasn’t improved much despite the organizing committee’s assurances that reducing pollution is a priority.

He said a recent air quality index reading of Beijing was 140, compared to Toronto where a reading over 50 is considered poor, although Charko says he’s still trying to figure out whether the Chinese measure air quality the same way Canadians do.

If pollution is an issue, athletes may avoid coming to the city until a few days before their event, Charko said, and if he or she knows they’ll be performing in boiling heat, they can mentally prepare for it and take the necessary steps to keep cool.

“And how much cooling do they actually need to undergo?” he said. “In some cases, like the sprinters, they actually want to be a little bit warm before they race.”

Number crunching in Calgary

Charko will share his climate information with environmental physiologist Dr. Jon Kolb of the University of Calgary.

Kolb will then determine how an athlete’s body will react to the climate and recommend strategies for dealing with it. He’s testing athletes’ respiration in China this month.

The COC is spending about $325,000 over the next two months on Canada’s operations in Beijing, according Derek Covington, director of Olympic preparation.

“It’s extremely important in normalizing the Olympic environment and understanding the challenges of the Beijing Games specifically and how they’re different than world championships or World Cup events,” Covington said.

“It’s basically just preparing all these sports to be prepared for all types of challenges and distractions they might come across and will likely come across in Beijing.”

Test events at Olympic venues this month include world junior rowing, world junior wrestling, sailing, canoe slalom test, canoe sprint, beach volleyball, cycling and archery followed by the women’s World Cup of soccer, cycling, modern pentathlon, triathlon, and softball in October.

World champion swimmer Brent Hayden travelled to Beijing earlier this month to simulate his competition schedule. He discovered recently he is an asthmatic, so he’s trying to figure out a way to cope with it in the smog.

The senior women’s wrestling team will also be there this month for a training camp at the Canadian International School in the embassy district of Beijing.

Road to Excellence

Road To Excellence, a business plan for the success of Canada’s summer athletes, directed Sport Canada funding towards buying an Olympic wrestling mat, which costs about $14,000, for the team while in Beijing.

The objective of Road To Excellence is for Canada to finish among the top 16 countries at the Beijing Olympics, as well as in the top five at the Paralympics that follow the Olympics.

Charko says the British Olympic team has had a full-time meteorologist for years.

He is a part-time consultant for the COC and his background is in sailing.

Charko was a meteorologist, or a “met man,” for the America’s Cup race during the past nine years and most recently for the Italian team Luna Rosa.

He spoke to the Canadian Press during a recent stop to visit family in Regina, but he is moving back to New Zealand, where he met his wife Juliet, after three years of living in Spain.

The Canadian sailing team approached Charko in 2006 about working with their sailors and his role has expanded to include the entire Canadian Olympic team.

“The America’s Cup is a big deal in sailing and the budgets are just unbelievable,” Charko said. “It’s the Formula One of sailing, but being involved with the Canadian team gives me a little kick that I didn’t get with the America’s Cup.”