BY RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Organising Committee reached an agreement Wednesday to propose a plan to move the marathon and race walking events for the 2020 Games from Tokyo to Sapporo, where temperatures are on average 5 to 6 degrees Celsius cooler during the day at that time of year.
According to Kyodo News, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Thursday in Doha that the IOC and the 2020 organizing committee have already agreed to move the venue to Sapporo.
The marathons, which are slated for next Aug. 2 for the women’s and Aug. 9 for the men’s, were originally scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m., but have since been rescheduled twice — first to 7 a.m. in July 2018, and then again to 6 a.m. soon after — due to heat concerns.
The plan to hold them in Sapporo is the latest in a series of countermeasures being taken to protect athletes, spectators and volunteers at the Olympic and Paralympic venues and arenas throughout the country from the nation’s infamously hot summer heat during the late July to early September period.
Other countermeasures against heat include installing fans and mist machines around and within stadiums and athletic arenas, holding events in the morning when it is cooler and strategically planting trees to create shade.
John Coates, chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission for the 2020 Games, apologized to organizers for the abrupt earlier announcement, but insisted that it was necessary to avoid Tokyo’s notorious summer heat during an interview with Kyodo News on Wednesday.
“For Tokyo 2020, it came as a bit of surprise and I understand that,” he said. “But the problem is that you can’t leave this up in the air.”
“We had to move quickly and we didn’t want speculation, we didn’t want rumor and it was better to come out and say what our plan is,” he added.
Bach and World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said heat countermeasures including this one are being made to give athletes the platform they need to give their best performances.
Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said on Thursday that he heard about the plan the night prior through news reports and had yet to receive any word directly from the IOC. He added that he was “surprised by the abruptness” of the plan and the timeline is “tight” since organizers will have to start from scratch and begin by deciding the course routes.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike warned in a statement that, because the plan was “abruptly” announced, such methods could lead to problems moving forward. She pointed out that decisions regarding the course and starting times of the marathon and race walking events have been made only after deliberation between Tokyo and the IOC, along with other related groups and organizations.
“I was surprised by the sudden change of plans,” Koike said in the statement. “Residents and stakeholders deserve an explanation.”
The announcement comes shortly after concerns about severe heat were raised by coaches and athletes alike following a marathon at the IAAF World Athletics Championships held in Doha, which ran from September to early October.
It was also last month that four marathon runners earned the opportunity to represent Japan at the 2020 Olympics after they won a race in Tokyo using a course nearly identical to the one that will be used during the Olympic Games next year. Yutaka Taketomi, the coach of Honami Maeda, who won gold during the race last month, said he didn’t know what to say, explaining that they had been preparing for the race to be held in Tokyo.
Tadashi Fukushima, the coach of Shogo Nakamura, who also won gold last month to win a spot at next year’s Olympics, expressed confusion and said, “The only thing we can do is wait to see what happens next.”
The IOC’s plan to move the Olympic marathon and race walking to a cooler climate will be discussed with stakeholders at a special session the IOC has dedicated to a discussion about heat countermeasures during a meeting that will be held from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Tokyo.