Visitors use paper fans featuring attention-seeking messages on heat during a test event for Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the beach volleyball venue. Photo: REUTERS file

Olympic test events offer chance to assess impact of extreme heat

By Ayano Shimizu and Reito Kaneko

How athletes and spectators can avoid suffering adverse health effects in Tokyo's blazing summer heat remains one of the major challenges 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games organizers are facing.

As Tokyo suffers through yet another sweltering summer, with the mercury hitting as high as 35 C in mid-August, the games' organizing committee and athletes are taking the pre-Olympic test events as a golden opportunity to understand what to expect next year.

At the triathlon test event earlier this month, athletes battled the heat by making strategic changes to their competition plan as well as taking precautionary measures ahead of the race, including wearing ice vests and shortening warm-ups.

The temperature was 29.5 C at Odaiba Marine Park, the venue of the 2020 triathlon events, at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Aug 18 an hour before the start of the mixed relay race, a new medal event added to the Olympic program for 2020. The mercury shot up to about 35 C toward the end of the test event.

"I think (the heat) is very hard, but we all prepared very well for this," said Brazil's Luisa Baptista. "I think next year we'll try new methods (to battle the heat)."

While finishing only 12th in the 22-team race won by the French, Baptista said competing in Tokyo a year out had great significance as it will allow her team to analyze the outcome and come up with better countermeasures.

Event organizers made announcements via loudspeaker urging spectators to be cautious of heatstroke. An ambulance also stood by in case of an emergency, while 10 staff walked around the spectator seating area to attend to fans who might be feeling unwell.

During the race, bottles of water and ice packs were handed to athletes at designated spots on the run leg, which also had mist sprayers to give some brief respite. Many athletes poured water on their heads and pressed ice packs to their necks and armpits.

After France's Dorian Coninx and Britain's Alex Yee broke through the finishing tape almost simultaneously, they both crumpled to the ground as their teammates doused them with cold water and dragged them into the shade.

While the International Triathlon Union took several countermeasures to deal with the heat during the four-day test event, it was forced to make changes to the event program, including switching starting times and shortening the running segment in one of the races.

Athletes who competed on Sunday said preparation meant everything when it comes to racing in Tokyo's summer heat, including camping in Japan or other hot places.

"I know everybody has their own heat protocols. People were sitting in saunas and intense heat. I was training in Arizona where it's really hot," said Ben Kanute of the United States.

The athletes, however, are not the only ones who will need to be prepared for the heat.

Volunteers and spectators, who filled the stands on Sunday, were also trying everything they can to stay cool.

Some spectators held portable electric fans and drank from large bottles of water. As the temperature increased, many people took refuge in the shade or under a large mist sprayer installed by the Tokyo metropolitan government, partly because the stands were not covered.

"It's way too hot. I can't stand the heat unless I take shelter," said Masafumi Kishi, who came to the venue with his two children, aged five and six. "It has been difficult for the kids too. I wonder what it will be like next year."

Pre-Olympic and Paralympic test events are held for organizers to check and drill operations, while in some cases giving athletes a chance to get accustomed to the venue. This summer's tests, however, have ended up raising questions and concerns.

While the International Olympic Committee has praised Tokyo's preparations, the problem surrounding the weather is still a work in progress. The issue has been the center of attention at test events as heat-related illnesses again claimed many lives this year in Japan.

The capital hosted its first Summer Games in the much-cooler month of October in 1964, but next year's Olympics, featuring 33 sports and 339 events, will run between July 24 and Aug. 9. The Paralympics will take place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, a period expected to be a little less sweltering.

The IOC also created a leaflet for athletes introducing 10 tips to "beat the heat" during the Tokyo Games. The advice includes getting acclimated to the heat by training in similar temperatures for at least two weeks, implementing a hydration plan starting in the days preceding the event and wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Earlier this month, some athletes suffered symptoms of heatstroke at the rowing test event at Sea Forest Waterway, the Olympic rowing venue. At an equestrian test event, athletes called for earlier morning start times since the heat poses a threat both to them and the horses.

Last week, the running segment of the women's triathlon event was halved from 10 to 5 kilometers due to the heat and humidity, making national and international headlines.

And two days later, the swim leg of the Paralympic triathlon event was canceled after organizers found that the amount of E. coli bacteria in the water at the venue was more than two times higher than the maximum limit set by the ITU.

Water quality at Odaiba Marine Park, a waterway located very close to central Tokyo, has been a big challenge for 2020 organizers.

While triathletes who took to the waters said they did not experience a problem, open water swimmers -- athletes that spend a lot longer in the water -- said they were put off by the bad smell of the water when competing in a test event earlier in the month.

Representatives of the ITU and the Japan Triathlon Union suggested changes in the Olympic schedule to work around the weather and the condition of the venue.

Yasuo Mori, the deputy executive director of the games operations bureau, said the organizing committee would make the most of what happened during the test events to come up with a plan for next summer.

"A lot of things happened during the test events, but we will analyze data while taking into consideration the comments and ideas from concerned bodies. We will go through things one by one," he said.

"Offering an environment where athletes can compete at ease and in safe conditions is, obviously, the most important thing," he said, while ruling out the possibility of moving the Olympic triathlon venue at this late stage.

Test events for the 2020 Games are scheduled to take place until May.


©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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How much more condescending can the committee get? I mean really now, do they think that the athletes and people who come here to participate or watch the Olympics are NOT going to be aware of the weather?

I want to slap whomever came up with that one, upside their head!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

That fan is a bit patronising.

I feel most Westerner's would know that Japan is hot and humid in Summer and to know what to do and what not not to do accordingly.

Not all people need to be told what to do and think all of the time.....Japan.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Not all people need to be told what to do and think all of the time.....Japan.

Sure they do! It's JAPAN for cripes sake! (lol!)

7 ( +8 / -1 )

The fan would be more appropriate if it included information on help centers and emergency numbers instead of just some crap us 'westerners' learn in first grade geography class.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

kEeP cOoL

Thanks for the advice

1 ( +3 / -2 )

"It's way too hot. I can't stand the heat unless I take shelter," said Masafumi Kishi.....I wonder what it will be like next year."

When even the locals find the summer heat inhuman then you know that there's a serious issue

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I missed all this emphasis on heat and humidity during the bidding process....

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@lucbrasi, thank you for giving me the perfect chance to (again) quote this shameless BS from the Tokyo governor and chairman of the Olympic bid

“With many days of mild and sunny weather, this period provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best.”

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'm not so worried about the athletes - they train for this and can adjust their pace accordingly. It's the spectators who have no idea what they're in for.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Say out of the sun and hot places

Keep cool

Avoid the Olympics

6 ( +6 / -0 )

If u can't stand the heat, try to be cooler yourself, otherwise just quit the show!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The Olympics is the perfect place for the New York highway hustlers. Selling bottles of water in the side for ¥100 each.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It’s fine...according to Japan olympics committee, Aug is sunny and conducive to athletes performing at their best. Just in case they’ll prepare extra ambulances. This is going to be interesting, to say the least...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I want next year’s athletes to know that they will start sweating at the merest exertion and the sweating won’t cool off their bodies.

It is dangerous to perform at Olympic level in such conditions!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Why are they talking about the heat of Tokyo now leaving only one year. It is too late. All knew it is very, very foolish to hold any athletic meet at this time of the year in Tokyo. There will be a big confusion.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Tokyo 2020 will be the worst Olympics in living memory due to the heat amd overcrowding. Visitors will be relieved as they leave.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

"Stay out of the sun and hot places" says the fan.

So that would be "Give Tokyo in late July a miss", then?

What a shambles. They knew 55 years ago that Tokyo in summer is no place for people to be running around and jumping - that's why they shifted it to October. And it was a success.

This is going to be a total disaster, and my grandchildren yet unborn will still be paying for it.

Anyone still spouting the party line about how "Olympic is good for economy" needs a boot in the nads.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I thought Tokyo had the perfect climate for the summer Olympics. What happened?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Please forgive me if this is a silly question, but why aren't the olympics being organized indoors? That would resolve all this mumbo jumbo instantly.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

The thermometer may say 35C, but factor in humidity and it feels like 45C. Too hot for the Games.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The weather in Japan is hot and humid. Avoid running, jumping, shot put, tennis, table tennis, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, and watching exciting TV shows.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Maybe the Tokyo 2020 games will introduce corrected temperatures that include the effect of humidity?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Double the number of air conditioning units in Tokyo. Problem solved.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

This is all Japan talks about, they never think how to solve the problem but just go on and on about how hot is here.

Plant more Trees in cities and create more shade!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's pissing me off how many people here don't think about more green in their cities. They're too negative about it.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@Farmboy: Avoid running, jumping, shot put, tennis, table tennis, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, and watching exciting TV shows

Twenty-something years in here, and I've yet to see an exciting TV show. Infuriating, certainly. Exciting? Nope.

Maybe that should be the Public Health announcement? "Come for the Olympics. Recover from your heatstroke watching our unutterable sh!te on telly."

1 ( +2 / -1 )

People will die of heatstroke

0 ( +1 / -1 )

As the temperature increased, many people took refuge in the shade or under a large mist sprayer installed by the Tokyo metropolitan government, partly because the stands were not covered.

There's something to fix. Add awnings, simple tech.

Too late to plant more trees, though a whole bunch of green pillars like they did in Mexico on their roads (via verde) might be a great relief.

Solutions exist, if they're interested in acting.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Last week I was at an outdoor music festival where it was 35 degrees all day. I drank about 6 bottles of pocari (which I hate but it was the cheapest and most available drink there) and there were very few shaded areas. Even with my cool sheets, portable fan, cool spray, reapplication of sunscreen, and constant hydration, I still had to be laid down in a shaded area because I felt very ill at around 3pm, and I got slightly sunburnt.

One of the stages was in an unconverted baseball stadium. The plastic seats were burning hot. I could not understand why there wasn't a single shaded area in the stadium.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

uncovered baseball stadium^^

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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