TOKYO (REUTERS) – As the contestants battled for the podium in day three of Olympic athletics on Sunday August 1, it was the blistering heat in Tokyo that caused perhaps the most pain.
Punitive conditions greeted athletes and officials as a trackside thermometer hit 40 degrees Celsius and humidity hovered around 60%, with the sun hitting the Olympic stadium with no fans.
Sweaty reporters donned wet towels during the women’s 3,000m steeplechase qualifying match, the event’s signature water hazard looking more appealing than ever.
The risks of heat stroke at one of the hottest Games on record are borne by the athletes, but also by the thousands of staff, especially at outdoor venues.
So far, around 30 people involved in organizing the Olympics have suffered from heat-related illnesses, but all of them had mild symptoms, Games General Manager Toshiro Muto said.
“Before the coronavirus problem started, the important question for the Tokyo Games was a response to heat sickness,” Muto told reporters.
“We’ve looked at all kinds of scenarios to take in-depth action. I think our measures have worked well so far.”
Bruno Schmidt, 2016 Brazilian beach volleyball gold medalist, said the Games were hotter and heavier than he expected.
“The first two weeks here are one of the hottest of my life, believe it or not.”
But South African Wayde van Niekerk, 400m world record holder and 2016 gold medalist, said that while it would be nice if humidity could be reduced, “every competitor has to face it and we take it in our stride ”.
World Athletics spokeswoman Nicole Jeffery said the calendar was designed to hold endurance events in the evenings when it is cooler.
The evening’s busy schedule includes the men’s 100m final.
“All athletes are given ice and water and the medical team is watching them closely to make sure no one is showing signs of heat stress,” said Ms. Jeffery.
Ms. Jeffery added that “cold water immersion facilities” were available for anyone suffering from heat.
The morning track and field program saw China’s Gong Lijiao win gold in the women’s shot put as the qualifying rounds for the women’s hammer throw, long jump and men’s 400m took place.
The Tokyo Games, from July 23 to August 8, coincide with the hottest time of the year in Tokyo, where the temperature can reach 35 degrees Celsius or more. The 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics were held in October.
A study last year by a Games advisor, analyzing data going back to 1984, found that Tokyo had the highest average temperature and precipitation of any host city for the period of the Olympics.
Tokyo’s five hottest days since 1964 fell during or around this year’s Games period.
In 2013, the Tokyo bid committee promised “many days of mild, sunny weather,” providing “an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best,” defending the schedule, which was determined by the athletes. global broadcast programs, when the world sports calendar is otherwise light.
Struggling with sweltering temperatures on Wednesday, world tennis number 2 Daniil Medvedev warned officials that a player “can die” in the heat.
The sport’s governing body then agreed to delay game start times in response to similar complaints from other players.
The hockey players, sweltering on an unshaded field, enjoyed double the usual number of two-minute breaks.
During equestrian cross-country, Frenchman Karim Florent Laghouag donned an ice vest, a wet towel and ice packs around his neck when he spoke to reporters after his hike.
“It’s so good,” he said, pointing the vest as temperatures were well above 30 degrees Celsius.
Organizers have deployed a host of tools – from misting stations and cooling vests to AI gadgets that warn of the risk of heat stroke – to beat the heat while dispensing salt tablets and cream ice cream to volunteers.
Tokyo also used roads that reflect heat or sidewalks that absorb water, and organizers have moved the marathon and walking to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.