TOKYO • The marathon and race-walking events at next year's Tokyo Olympics are set to be moved to Sapporo where temperatures will be "significantly lower", the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said yesterday.
With temperatures at the July 24-Aug 9 Games projected to reach well above 30 deg C, organisers have opted to put the participating athletes' well-being first.
The proposed move to Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, Japan's northern-most prefecture, will result in a temperature reduction of 5-6 deg C during the Games period.
IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement yesterday: "Athletes' health is always at the heart of our concerns.
"The new far-reaching proposals to move the marathon and race-walking events show how seriously we take such concerns.
"The Olympics are the platform where athletes can give 'once-in-a-lifetime' performances, and these measures ensure they have the conditions to give their best."
The marathons had already been due to start at 6am in Tokyo to mitigate against the heat and the switch in venues appears to be the IOC's attempt to pre-empt the problems which plagued the recently concluded world athletics championships.
The heat and humidity in Doha, Qatar, was still stifling despite both the men's and women's marathons starting at midnight.
Twenty-eight of the 68 starters in the latter race failed to finish owing to the conditions.
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Sebastian Coe also revealed that the track and field governing body had been "working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the potential weather conditions at next year's Olympic Games".
But the plan to change the location of the events still needs to be rubber-stamped and be given the backing of all major stakeholders, notably host city Tokyo, the national Olympic committees and the relevant broadcasters.
According to Kyodo News, Sapporo officials have also been blindsided by the "out of the blue" news.
A city administrator, who declined to be named, said: "We have experience with running big competitions such as the Hokkaido Marathon, but will that know-how translate to the Olympics?"
Sports journalist Masayuki Tamaki also felt that while "this change is something that obviously should have been done, the decision comes too late".
The IOC coordination commission for Tokyo 2020 will dedicate a special session in its meeting in Tokyo later this month to heat countermeasures.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS