Sweltering heat at Tokyo is 'worst in Olympic history'

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·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
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TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: Svetlana Gomboeva of Team ROC is treated for heat exhaustion in the Women's Individual Ranking Round during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yumenoshima Park Archery Field on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Archer Svetlana Gomboeva is treated for heat exhaustion after fainting on Friday. (Getty Images)

Climate researchers have said this year’s Tokyo Games are the “worst in history” for heat – and that organisers need to consider holding future Olympics at different times of the year.

Unbearable heat and humidity has been an ongoing theme at this year’s Games, with temperatures touching 35C.

Unsurprisingly, it has directly impacted the athletes.

On Friday, Russian archer Svetlana Gomboeva fainted during a qualifying round.

On Wednesday, Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev struggled to breathe and said an athlete "can die” in the heat. Organisers subsequently announced later start times for matches.

Russia's Daniil Medvedev wipes his face as he competes against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles quarterfinal tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 29, 2021. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniil Medvedev wipes his face during a men's tennis singles quarter-final match on Thursday. The time of the match was moved due to heat concerns. (AFP via Getty Images)

Tools such as mist-spraying stations and cooling vests have also been deployed at events, while old-fashioned hoses have been used to cool down sand in the volleyball arena.

However, Makoto Yokohari, a professor on green urban planning who has been advising organisers, said such methods can only go so far and added: "When it comes to this combination between the temperature and the humidity, I have been warning that Tokyo is the worst in Olympic history.”

According to the British Association for Sustainable Sport, Tokyo's mean annual temperature has risen by 2.86C since 1900 – about three times as fast as the world average of 0.96C.

The timing of the Games, from 23 July to 8 August, also coincides with the year's hottest temperatures in Japan.

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For Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth, this points to a need to review the time of year when future Games are held.

He said: “They have to start putting heat on the agenda. They're going to have to start thinking about the best time of the year and the best locations to have these events.”

Prof Tipton also pointed out the heat is diminishing the standard of competitors’ performances.

"People who follow sport should appreciate what climate change is doing to their sport, entertainment and spectacle. You just won't have people performing at the same level, in endurance events for example.”

Prof Yokohari, from the University of Tokyo, added organisers of the Paris Games in 2024 need to plan and act now, particularly in light of the record heatwaves in France in 2019 which caused about 1,500 deaths.

He called for measures such as using shade for outdoor events and holding the marathon at midnight when temperatures dip.

Prof Yuri Hosokawa, an expert on sport and heat risks at Japan's Waseda University, added federations should agree on what weather conditions would lead to automatic cancellation of events or races.

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She said: "By knowing the upper threshold, athletes, spectators and stakeholders can train and plan accordingly and share the same expectations."

The International Olympic Committee has said it will take into account "flexibility and adaptation to the consequences of climate change" in planning future events.

It added "a wide range of measures" are being taken in Tokyo to mitigate the heat, such as moving the location of the marathon and shifting start times for others.

Additional reporting by Thomson Reuters.

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