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Everest Olympic torch diary

April 27, 2008

BBC News
Thursday, 24 April 2008

As the Olympic torch makes its way around the world before arriving in
Beijing for the games in August, the BBC's Jonah Fisher joins it for the
high point of its trip - on Mount Everest.

In the first of his diary instalments, he finds himself waiting in
Beijing as the Chinese authorities make last-minute changes to the
itinerary of the media.

It is hard to imagine how climbing Mount Everest could be regarded as a

But after being targeted by demonstrators on its route around the world,
the Olympic torch may, despite the thin air, breathe a little easier
when it reaches the icy slopes of the world's highest mountain sometime
next week.

Along with my colleague Peter Emmerson, I am due to fly into Tibet as
part of an official Olympic media group to report on the efforts of
torch-carrying Chinese mountaineers.

Unfortunately so far we have been told next to nothing about the climb

No start date, no word on who is taking part, or even how many climbers
there are.

So we have been trying to wait patiently in Beijing, but as we make our
final preparations there has been no shortage of drama behind the scenes.

Plans changed

Having been invited months ago, events came to a head this week at the
Olympic Media Centre in Beijing.

The 20 foreign journalists had just been told that the trip was being
indefinitely delayed and were summoned to a meeting to be told why.

With the torch encountering protests around the world, and the riots in
Lhasa just over a month old, a few theories were being thrown around.

But Shao Shiwei the deputy spokesman of the Olympic Organising Committee
dismissed them all.

"Because of bad weather on Mt Qomolangma (the Chinese name for Everest)
we have decided that it is best for your safety to stay here in Beijing
until the climb begins," he said.

It was bad news.

Plans for us to slowly acclimatise to the dangerously thin air on
Everest had been shelved, and we would now depart Beijing only when the
Chinese mountaineers had left base camp to attempt the summit.

There would also now be no coverage of the arrival of the torch on the
mountain, a potential flashpoint for pro-Tibetan demonstrators.

Collective protest

Our three-week trip to Tibet had suddenly been condensed into one.

Collectively we protested that by being raced from sea level to over
5,000 metres in just two days, our health was being put at risk.

Medical advice is that this sort of rapid rise would put many of us in
danger of severe altitude sickness.

After a 24-hour stand off, the trip was tweaked.

The journalists were given an extra day to acclimatise in Tibet but also
issued with an ultimatum.

We were told to pay for our air tickets before 10 the next morning or
miss out entirely.

The world's three main news agencies decided they wanted further
clarification and consultations before going ahead, and missed the deadline.

They then discovered that the Chinese were deadly serious and refused to
take them back.

Whether conspiracy or cock-up, it means that significantly fewer
journalists will be travelling into Tibet.
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