BY DUNCAN MACKAY
The Olympic marathon and race walking events for next year’s Olympic Games have been moved from Tokyo to Sapporo, it has been announced on Wednesday.
The move to Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, will mean significantly lower temperatures for the athletes during the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claimed.
In Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, temperatures during the Games period are as much as five to six degrees centigrade cooler during the day than in Tokyo, more than 800 kilometres further south than the Japanese capital.
Concerns over the heat at Tokyo 2020 have grown in recent months after more than 50 people died in the city in July after temperatures of 40 degrees.
“Athletes’ health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns,” IOC President Thomas Bach said upon his arrival here to attend the last day of the Association of National Olympic Committees World Beach Games.
“A range of measures to protect the athletes have already been announced.
“The new far-reaching proposals to move the marathon and race walking events show how seriously we take such concerns.”
This latest initiative by the IOC and Tokyo 2020 comes on top of other heat countermeasures which are already planned and being implemented on the recommendations of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Adverse Weather Impact Expert Working Group (the IOC Working Group).
They include the longer distance events over 5,000 metres being scheduled in the evening and not in the morning, all morning matches at the rugby sevens finishing before 12pm and mountain bike races being delayed until 3pm.
It had already been announced marathon start times had been brought forward to counteract temperatures expected to exceed 30 degrees at 6am local time in Tokyo.
Special paint coatings sprayed on roads to reduce roadside temperatures was another initiative being considered to make conditions more manageable for the runners and walkers.
But now it has been decided that the races need to be moved.
The IOC appear determined to avoid a repeat of what occurred at the recent international Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships in Doha, where almost half the field failed to complete the women’s marathon because of sweltering heat and humidity even though that the men’s races both started at midnight.
“The Olympic Games are the platform where athletes can give ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ performances, and these measures ensure they have the conditions to give their best,” Bach said.
“I would like to thank World Athletics [the IAAF], and we look forward to working with them on the implementation.
On August 2, which marked one-year to go until the women’s Olympic marathon was due to take place, the temperature at the start time of 6am was 30 degrees with humidity at 70 per cent.
The decision to move the events has been supported by IAAF President Sebastian Coe.
“We have been working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the potential weather conditions at next year’s Olympic Games and will continue to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the proposal to move the road events to Sapporo,” he said.
The women’s marathon is due to take place on August 2 and the men’s on August 9, the last day of the Olympics.
The men’s 20 kilometres race walk is due to be the first gold medal awarded on the athletics programme with that scheduled for July 31.
it is then due to be followed by the women’s 20km race walk on August 7 and the men’s 50km race the following day.
“Giving athletes the best platform for their performances within the environment they are in is central to all major events, and we will work with the organisers to create the very best marathon and race walk courses for next year’s Olympic Games,” Coe said.