Extreme heat could impact 2020 Olympics
With exactly two years to go until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan continues to swelter under searing heat.
Dozens of people have died across the nation since early July, with 11 losing their life to the deadly heatwave on Saturday alone.
Temperatures have been almost 11 degrees hotter than the average at this time of year — the mercury rising to over 41 degrees (105.8F) in the city of Kumagaya, a short drive from the capital.
The heatwave has prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to outline the “detailed heat countermeasures” it’s planning to protect athletes, fans and the workers who will put on the Games.
“You will see the first step has already been reflected in the competition schedule, with specific events held at certain times to ensure the wellbeing of athletes,” said an IOC spokesperson in a statement sent to CNN.
Track and field events held at the open-air New National Stadium will take place in morning and evening sessions, with competitors typically remaining in the shade between 13:00 and 19:00.
The men’s and women’s marathons will both be finished before 10:00, while the the triathlons and outdoor swims are similarly scheduled to be wrapped up before noon.
Even so concerns remain over the impact such potentially oppressive heat could have on athletes.
Tokyo University professor Makoto Yokohari warned earlier this year that the Games could bring “some of the worst conditions in the history of marathon running,” adding “you should never run in this kind of heat and humidity.”
Yokohari rates the prospective marathon course as “dangerous” or “extremely dangerous” on clear sunny days.
Steps are being taken to reduce the risks, with trees planted around the course to offer shade and “mist-spraying technologies” implemented to cool spectators.
But there are fears that we could see scenes of exhaustion similar to Gabriela Andersen’s infamous staggering finish to the 1984 women’s marathon at the Los Angeles Games, or triathlete Alistair Brownlee’s near-collapse at a 2016 event on the Caribbean island of Cozumel.
“In recent days Tokyo and Japan has been like living in a sauna every day,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Monday.
Tokyo has hosted the Olympics before, back in 1964, but then the Games were held in October.
The Seoul 1988 Games were similarly staged after summer and had been and gone.
And IOC President Thomas Bach isn’t completely dismissing the possibility of rescheduling Tokyo 2020, in a similar vein to the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“We have always tried to be flexible and not to exclude […] certain parts of the world,” Bach told reporters Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland. “For this, we need — if such a case arises — the support of the International Federations (IFs) because they have their well established competition calendars.
“They may have obligations vis-à-vis their partners so such a decision can only be taken on a case-by-case basis.”
Japan’s average August temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) – far cooler than the current deadly heat.
The world of sport will be hoping the mercury falls two years from now.