Olympics: The heat is on as IOC braces for scorching Tokyo 2020, torch relay to start in Fukushima

International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates said: "Japan is not the first country to host a Games in extreme heat and it is a natural consequence of it being July and August, I'm afraid." PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - The Tokyo Olympic organisers insisted on Thursday (July 12) that they would take no chances with the safety of athletes competing in the fierce summer heat at the 2020 Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was given a timely reminder of Japan's vulnerability to natural disasters this week as heavy rains battered the west of the country, leaving more than 200 people dead.

"I was here as the floods impacted," IOC vice-president John Coates told reporters on the final day of a three-day visit.

"We expressed our sorrow and condolences to those affected. I certainly hope there are no such natural disasters during the Games - but I am mindful we have to prepare for extreme heat here."

Coates, who is also chairman of the IOC's Coordination Committee for the 2020 Tokyo Games, added: "Japan is not the first country to host a Games in extreme heat and it is a natural consequence of it being July and August, I'm afraid."

Local organisers did little to dampen fears earlier this year when they announced that marathon runners at the 2020 Olympics would face a brutal uphill finish in outlining the race route.

The organisers will take measures to alleviate the risk of heatstroke for competitors and spectators, including coating pavements with a substance to reduce the surface temperature in Tokyo, where the mercury regularly tops 35 deg C.

"We emphasised that when we went to see the surfing venue," said Coates, noting that fans and water sprays would also be set up for spectators moving to venues or waiting in security lines.

"There is the potential for delays while surfers wait for better waves. There might also be delays at the rowing because of winds.

"We want to make sure there are areas for athletes and officials to be looked after where it's air-conditioned, and we need to make sure there is medical attention available."

Coates promised that events such as the marathon would begin early to beat the blazing summer heat, adding: "It's a likelihood that has to be prepared for."

'Frugal' dinner for delegates

The 68-year-old Australian, who pronounced himself "terribly impressed" with the quality of the Olympic venues already finished or under construction, also pledged to further cut costs from the US$12 billion (S$16.4 billion) Olympic budget.

Officials will look to slash a further US$100 million off the cost of the Games through measures such as reducing the operation period of the Games village by two days, he said.

Coates has repeatedly urged Tokyo 2020 to tighten their purse strings due to fears their ballooning budget could dissuade other potential host cities from bidding for the Olympics.

Local organising chief Yoshiro Mori, who earlier on Thursday announced that the torch relay will start in Fukushima, an area devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, revealed that Tokyo's welcome dinner for IOC officials reflected a commitment to saving money.

"We didn't put on an extravagant spread," grinned the former Japanese prime minister.

"We fed them Japanese soul food - local pancakes and Japanese noodles, all in the frugal spirit of cutting costs. They seemed to enjoy it."

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