In a concession to the extreme heat that is expected to blanket the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee proposed moving next summer’s marathons and race walking events 500 miles north to Sapporo, site of the 1972 Winter Games.
The marathons for men and women are set for Aug. 2 and 9, with race walking events from July 31 through Aug. 8. Temperatures in Sapporo are forecast to be “5 to 6 degrees Celsius cooler [9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit] during the day than in Tokyo.”
Moving the marathons and race walking will be discussed by the host city, World Athletics, the National Olympic Committees, Olympic broadcasting services and broadcasters that hold rights to the Games. The IOC Coordination Commission plans to dedicate a special session to heat countermeasures during its Oct. 30-Nov. 1 meeting.
Other measures are in place as athletic organizers on all levels of competition begin to adjust for extreme conditions brought on by climate change. Upon recommendation from the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Adverse Weather Impact Expert Working Group, changes include scheduling 5,000-meter and longer-distance races in the evening sessions rather than in the morning; scheduling all morning rugby games to end before noon; and delaying the start of mountain biking events to 3 p.m.
Last year, Japan’s Medical Association expressed “grave concerns” about the risks for 2020 Olympic athletes and spectators, considering that temperatures in Tokyo usually top out in the mid-80s in late July and early August, with high humidity. Last summer was especially brutal. A summer heat wave killed at least 138 people in Japan, sent more than 70,000 people to hospitals and was declared a national emergency. Temperatures in Tokyo reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit with 80 percent humidity.
“The Tokyo marathon normally gets [a half-million] to 1 million spectators. Even if 0.1 percent of them get ill from heat, that would amount to 500 to 1,000 people,” Makoto Yokohari, a professor of urban engineering at the University of Tokyo, told The Washington Post in December. “Tokyo currently does not have the capability to rescue that many people, though starting at 6 may mean fewer spectators.”
Tokyo Olympic organizers previously had taken steps to combat the heat, coating the marathon course and other major roads with a resin-based surface that reflects infrared rays and lowers the surface temperature by as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Tents and fans that emit cooling mist will be used, though a plan to air-condition the new national stadium in Tokyo was abandoned because of the costs involved.
The Tokyo Games will take place July 22-Aug. 9, and when the city previously hosted the Games in 1964 they were held in October. Much has changed since then, most importantly the clout and money wielded by broadcasters. Moving the Summer Olympics into the fall would conflict with the NFL and baseball playoffs and international pro soccer.
Read more Olympics coverage from The Post: