With searing heat combined with high humidity expected for Tokyo next August, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced today that they planned to move the Olympic Marathons and race walking events to Sapporo, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Tokyo on the island of Hokkaido.
Officials said that temperatures there would be 5 to 6 degrees Celsius (9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler there. In addition, Games organizers will reschedule the 5000m and 10,000m track races to evening sessions, also to provide athletes with cooler conditions.
"Athletes' health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns," said IOC president Thomas Bach through a news release. "A range of measures to protect the athletes have already been announced. The new far-reaching proposals to move the marathon and race walking events show how seriously we take such concerns. The Olympic Games 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 pending decision will be discussed with all the stakeholders concerned, including the host city Tokyo, World Athletics (formerly IAAF), the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and the Rights-Holding Broadcasters (RHBs), at a special meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020 scheduled from 30 October to 1 November in Tokyo. Other heat countermeasures will be discussed during that session, IOC officials said.
World Athletics leaders were consulted extensively on the move and they support the plan. "We have been working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the potential weather conditions at next year's Olympic Games and will continue to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the proposal to move the road events to Sapporo," said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe through a statement. "Giving athletes the best platform for their performances within the environment they are in is central to all major events, and we will work with the organizers to create the very best marathon and race walk courses for next year’s Olympic Games."
The move would have a huge impact on athletes, team delegations, fans, print media, photographers and broadcasters. Regularly scheduled flights between Tokyo and Sapporo take one hour and 45 minutes, according to the travel website Kayak.com. It is not yet clear how hundreds, if not thousands, of media and broadcast personnel would be moved in a timely way to cover the events.
Reaction to the move has only begun to trickle out, but was mostly positive.
"Obviously not an ideal solution, but I can get behind this," tweeted Jonathan Gault, an athletics journalist for the running website LetsRun.com. "The Olympic Marathon should be about crowning the best athlete and this makes that possible, rather than just crowning whoever deals with the heat the best. Plus it's safer for the athletes."
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are scheduled to open on Friday, 24 July, and run through Sunday, 9 August. The original schedule for the marathons was 06:00 on Sunday, 2 August, for the women, and 06:00 on Sunday, 9 August for the men. It is not clear if both races will be held on the same day, or at the same time, under the new plan. A new schedule of events for athletics was not announced.