Since Japan was awarded the rights to host the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, environmental and sports experts warned that Tokyo’s summer heat could dramatically impact the Olympic games in a negative way.
Those critics seemed to have been proven correct last week, as a deadly heatwave across the Kanto and Kansai regions saw eleven people die from heat related causes. Although most of the people who died were elderly, one person who died was a 28-year old man who was dressed as a mascot at an amusement park.
Temperatures have averaged 35 Celsius (C) and above this summer, but temperatures last year were even higher and recorded up to 41.1 C, equivalent to 106 Fahrenheit (F). The high summer temperatures in 2018 caused 65 people to die of heat-related causes and ambulance crews rushed more than 54,000 people to hospitals that summer and above. Olympic planners point to the chaos caused by heat at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai where daily temperatures averaged 36 ~ 40 C (104 F). The extreme heat, coupled with long-waiting lines, and lack of non-paid water sources were causes that led to more than 200 people each day experiencing heat related illness. The heat was so extreme that more than 50 ambulances had to be stationed across the expo site so that medical crews could respond quickly to medical emergencies.
The Tokyo Olympics will take place from July 24 to August 9, and if this year is an example, Tokyo temperatures will be above 35 C with 85% or higher humidity levels. Ironically, the Japanese Ministry of Environment advises people “to stop exercising” when the temperature is 31 C or higher.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics took place in October of that year, when temperatures were much cooler and some Olympic planners wanted the 2020 games to be held in late-September / early-October for the same reasons. However, their concerns over the weather were ignored when the dates for next year’s games were announced.
|Japanese runners grabbing water during a recent race|
One of the biggest concerns is the marathon, the 26.2-mile event that takes the worlds best runners 2 hour to complete. The marathon was originally scheduled to begin at 10am in order to maximize TV viewing and advertising revenue, but because of the concerns over the heat, organizers are considering moving the marathon starting time has to 6am and the starting time for the 50-km race walk to 5:30am.
Olympic officials say that the marathon course will be paved with heat-reflecting materials that will lower temperatures by 8 degrees and there will be sections of the course where mist machines will be in abundance but many sports experts doubt whether this will be enough.
For people attending the Olympics, organizers have said that they will provide information about weather conditions and safety precautions on a daily basis through the official mobile app. They are also considering allowing spectators to bring their own bottled beverages into event venues. If allowed, this would be a departure from previous Olympics where spectators had to buy water from sponsors.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is also concerned about the city’s urban heat effect, which has been cased by high-rise buildings being built that limit natural winds blowing through the city and cooling it. Because of these buildings, heat gets trapped in the city center and raises temperatures by an average of 3 ~ 5 C.
In order to counter some of the effects of the heat, city officials say that they will install reflective materials that reduce surface temperatures over more than 130 kilometers of streets in the city’s center. In cooperation with the Tokyo Olympic organizing team, the city will also install tents, fans and mist sprayers near venues during test events this summer in order to evaluate and better refine their “heat” plans.