US to Olympians: Wear These Black Masks -- Now Take 'Em Off! | NBC New York

US to Olympians: Wear These Black Masks -- Now Take 'Em Off!

Cyclists apologize for wearing masks that U.S. gave them

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    AFP
    A member of the US Olympic delegation arrives wearing a mask at Beijing's Capital Airport ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 5, 2008. A murky haze hovered over Olympic venues in Beijing on August 5, sparking concern among athletes that it could affect their performances, but Games bosses insisted the dangers were being exaggerated. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE

    Four U.S. cyclists apologized Wednesday after arriving in Beijing wearing black face masks, specially designed to protect them from pollution.

    The apology came amid criticism of the cyclists by U.S. Olympic officials. But the New York Times reveals it was a U.S. Olympic official who told the cyclist to wear the masks in the first place.

    The Times notes that the United States Olympic Committee's lead exercise physiologist, Randy Wilber, told the cyclists to wear the masks on the plane and when they were on the ground.

    “This is really a surprise, because I didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal,” cyclist Mike Friedman told the Times. “Why we wore the masks is simple: pollution."

    The images of the cyclists grabbed headlines around the world with the New York Post's front page declaring PEKING YUCK.

    On Wednesday morning, Friedman and the three other cyclists -- Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed -- released a statement apologizing.

    “The wearing of protective masks upon our arrival into Beijing was strictly a precautionary measure we as athletes chose to take, and was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or political statement,” the athletes said, according to MSNBC. “We deeply regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult BOCOG or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.”

    USOC Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr said his organization didn’t ask the cyclists to apologize. He also said about 200 U.S. athletes got the masks through "the national governing body, not directly from the U.S. Olympic Committee."