Sapporo Odori Park in Hokkaido will be the venue for the marathon and race walk events of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“ The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020) today announced that Sapporo Odori Park in Hokkaido has been approved by the IOC as the venue for the marathon and race walk events at the IOC Executive Board meeting held today in Lausanne, Switzerland. This followed confirmation from World Athletics,’’ an official statement dated December 4, 2019, available on the website of IOC, said.
According to it, Sapporo Odori Park has been used in the past as a venue for the Hokkaido Marathon, giving the local authorities considerable experience in operating major events in this area. It is a popular spot for tourists and local residents; it hosts a variety of events throughout the year. It is a large open space of around 7.8 hectares in the center of Sapporo City, featuring beautiful lawns, flower beds and trees.
The park was chosen also because its layout allows both the marathon and race walk events to be held at the same venue, while the topography of the surrounding area allows for the creation of exciting competition courses. At Games time, temporary facilities will be constructed at the park to support operations.
The statement said that IOC, World Athletics and Tokyo 2020 agreed on one and two kilometer-loops for the race walk and a 20km loop course for the first stage of the marathon, leaving as legacy a half-marathon course which can host a future annual event. World Athletics and Tokyo 2020 will continue their discussions on the second half of the course and will conduct a site inspection in order to reach a mutual decision on overall operations by mid-December, the statement said.
The competition schedules have also been revamped to facilitate the support of NOC officials and coaches to the athletes, as Sapporo is located 800km to the north of Tokyo. The marathon and race walk events are now scheduled to be held on four consecutive days, from 6 to 9 August. The revised schedule is as follows:
6 August / 4.30 p.m. Men’s 20km race walk
7 August / 5.30 a.m. Men’s 50km race walk
7 August / 4.30 p.m. Women’s 20km race walk
8 August / 7.00 a.m. Women’s marathon
9 August / 7.00 a.m. Men’s marathon
The statement quoted the Chair of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry, as saying, “ Athletes’ health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns, and the decision to move the marathon and race walk events to Sapporo shows how seriously we take such concerns. We also want the Olympic Games to be the platform where athletes can give once-in-a-lifetime-performances, and this new venue ensures that they will have the conditions to give their best. I would like to thank the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the local authorities and World Athletics for confirming this new venue so quickly, in order to give the athletes as much preparation time as possible. I look forward to seeing the marathon and race walk athletes compete in Sapporo in front of a passionate crowd next August.”
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto commented, “ We appreciate that, through the support of so many people, Sapporo Odori Park could be approved as a venue so quickly following the decision to move these events. With less than eight months to go until the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Games, Tokyo 2020 will continue to work closely as one team with all the parties involved in their preparation.’’
It was in mid-October that the IOC first announced plans to move the Olympic marathon and race walk 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, an official statement issued then had said. In era of climate change, thermal stress has become a subject of concern for endurance sports staged outside the controlled ambiance of stadiums. It may be recalled that heat had taken a terrible toll on participants for the marathon and race walk events at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, earlier this year.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)