Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) today announced that it is planning to move the Olympic marathon and race-walking events to Sapporo, the host city of the Olympic Winter Games 1972.

The move to Hokkaido, the northern-most prefecture of Japan, will mean significantly lower temperatures for the athletes during the Olympic Games. In Sapporo, temperatures during the Games period are as much as five to six degrees centigrade cooler during the day than in Tokyo, which is more than 800 kilometers further south, an official statement said.

The plans are part of wide range of measures being taken by Tokyo 2020 in consultation with IOC and international federations to mitigate the effects of the temperatures which may occur next summer. IOC has informed World Athletics about the proposed changes.

This latest initiative by 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 5000m and longer distance races being scheduled for the evening and not morning and moving the marathon and race walk events to earlier starting times.

The IOC Working Group identified the marathon and race-walk as the events that would put particular heat stress on athletes, the IOC statement said.

The implementation of the initiative to move the marathon and the race-walks will be discussed with all the stakeholders concerned. The IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020, chaired by IOC Member John Coates, has dedicated a special session in its meeting from 30 October to 1 November in Tokyo to heat countermeasures.

It may be recalled that at the recently held 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, the events held within the protective ambiance of the main stadium went off comfortably for athletes. Endurance disciplines like the marathon and race-walking, held outside, elicited a heavy toll on participants with several athletes pulling out and finish timings, fairly poor compared to timings registered elsewhere.

Sapporo is Japan’s fifth largest city by population and the biggest city on the country’s northern island, Hokkaido. According to Wikipedia, “  Sapporo has a humid continental climate, with a wide range of temperature between the summer and winter. Summers are generally warm but not overly humid, and winters are cold and very snowy.” Sapporo is one of few metropolises in the world with heavy snowfall, it added. Among the main islands constituting Japan, Hokkaido is the second largest. The general lay of the land has bearing on how a course for running may be. Wikipedia in its section on Hokkaido’s geography says that the center of the island has a number of mountains and volcanic plateaus. There are also multiple plains.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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