The International Olympic Committee has announced that the men’s and women’s marathons and race walking events will be moved from Tokyo to Sapporo, a distance of some 800 kilometres, due to the extreme heat and humidity conditions expected in the Japanese capital next summer.
Sapporo, the capital city of the northern Hokkaiden Prefecture, hosted the Winter Games in 1972. The weather in early August, when the 2020 Olympics will be held, is likely to be warm (averaging 26 C), but five or six degrees cooler than Tokyo and significantly less humid.
Athletes and others have been sounding the alarm about Tokyo’s heat and the possible danger to athletes for some time, and in turn, the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Adverse Weather Impact Expert Working Group has a number of measures in place to mitigate the effects of extreme heat, which include scheduling track events of 5,000m and longer in the evening rather than the morning, and scheduling the marathon and race walk events at 6:00 a.m.
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) October 16, 2019
Heat countermeasures will be high on the agenda of the IOC Co-ordination Commission for Tokyo 2020’s upcoming meeting in Tokyo from October 30 to November 1. They will also consider the results of a heat countermeasure questionnaire distributed to each international federation.
With Sapporo being so remote from Tokyo, the decision has an impact on the logistics of transporting and housing athletes, officials and spectators.
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• 𝔎𝔢𝔢𝔭 ℭ𝔬𝔬𝔩 𝔞𝔫𝔡 ℜ𝔢𝔣𝔲𝔢𝔩 I’ve been asked a lot about how I handled the ‘hellish’ conditions that Doha offered up. The simplest answer was respect. Preparation played a big role, but every athlete showed up fit, most had done some sort of heat acclimation training, yet many failed to properly respect the toughest conditions we’d ever faced for a 50km walk. What did we do differently? I was astounded that many athletes did no pre-cooling. Only a few of us elected for pre race ice baths. From the ice bath I had an ice towel wrapped around me from the call room out to the race course. I stood on the start line nearly shivering, giving my core temp the most amount of wiggle room possible; We knew from the women’s marathon that 10% was a normal reduction in pace so at 5min/km I didn’t panic and instead of focusing on those in front I focused on my cooling and refueling. With water tables every ~700m it was easy to stay cool, with a little effort. 74 times I grabbed as much as I could. Sponging off and pouring cold water all over. Every personal drinks table (2km) I changed out my ice towel, scarf and hat and got in as much fluid as I could (4L+ and 350g CHO). There was never more than a minute or two where I felt hot. And at 35km I was able to shift my focus onto those in front and start chasing. For the first time in years, I accelerated through the 50km, one by one I picked people off and I loved every minute of it. The conditions were tough. But my core temp only peaked at 40.3 degrees, nothing dangerous. I don’t have any special ability to endure hell, just an amazing plan to make it bearable (thanks to Gerry, Brent, Trent and team for helping with this plan!) • I’m not the most genetically gifted athlete on the start line, which is why I love conditions like this. They’re a great equalizer. It’s not about being the fittest, it’s about being the smartest. There is still more to improve both fitness and smarts wise but here’s to hoping for an August heat wave in Tokyo next year! 🤞☀️🔥🇯🇵 ••• 📸 Nariman El-Mofty/ AP (@narimanelmofty / @apnews) #racewalking #sport #doha #worldathleticschamps #iaafdoha2019 #iaafworlds #teamcanada #newbalance #olympics
The decision comes on the heels of the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, where numerous athletes dropped out of the women’s marathon due to extreme heat and humidity.
Team Canada is particularly adept at embracing measures to counteract the effects of heat, with athletes doing heat acclimation, pre-cooling, taking full advantage of measures designed to keep them cool on the course, and being conservative about pace. As a result, Evan Dunfee won a bronze medal in the 50K race walk in Doha, and Lyndsay Tessier finished in the top 10 of the women’s marathon.
Dunfee, in particular, is not happy about the announcement, for this very reason: Team Canada’s heat strategy worked brilliantly in Doha. In a long Twitter thread, Dunfee outlined his reasons for opposing the move:
Hey, @iaaforg @iocmedia I’m assuming this means you’ll be paying for my family and friends flights and accommodations who have already booked for Tokyo?
This breaks my heart and is poised to ruin my Olympic experience. Was there ANY consultation with athletes over this? https://t.co/I5YJ1aGWAc
— Evan Dunfee (@EvanDunfee) October 16, 2019
Tokyo is currently digging out after what experts are calling the worst typhoon in 60 years.