Tokyo climate: Stifling warmth, humidity create robust situations at Olympics

TOKYO – Florian Wellbrock won the men’s 10km open water swim Thursday morning by beating 25 people and another rival who was tougher than everyone else. “The temperature was the biggest competitor,” said the German.

On Wednesday, at the women’s 10 km, the conditions were similar. “We knew it was going to be pretty warm,” said American Haley Anderson, who finished sixth. “And, well, it is what it is.” Silver medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal said: “Conditions were tough at the end. It got warmer and warmer as we got faster and faster. “

How hot was the water in Tokyo Bay? The official starting temperature for the women was 29.3 degrees Celsius, which is 84.74 degrees Fahrenheit. Trying to fight your way through swimming more than ten kilometers is certainly detrimental to performance and verges on dangerous.

And that with a start time of 6:30 a.m. Many other athletes – on the track and elsewhere – battled their way through midday temperatures on dry land that were in the upper 90s with enough humidity to create a “feel like” feeling. Reading in the range of 106-108 degrees. Walking around was a chore; the competition was downright exhausting.

In tennis, Russian Daniil Medvedev took two medical time outs during a game and once told the chair referee: “I can finish the game, but I can die. If I die, will you be responsible? “He didn’t die, but it was ugly on the tennis court. Spaniard Paula Badosa left the court in a wheelchair after finishing her quarter-final game due to heat stroke.

On the golf course Jack Fulghum, the caddy of the American Lexi Thompson, had to break off his round after 15 holes on Wednesday and was treated for heat exhaustion according to “I’m from Florida and I’m still not used to such bad heat,” said Thompson. Another caddy was hospitalized earlier this week with heat stroke.

Some events have been postponed to cooler hours. Both Canada and Sweden, who will face each other in the women’s gold medal soccer game on Friday, requested that the start time be postponed to 11 a.m. due to the expected heat. On Thursday evening in Tokyo, it was postponed to Friday at 9 p.m. Japanese time.

You can’t hold an Olympic Games like that. But that’s the deal the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo made with NBC to host the Summer Games in a greenhouse. They could have moved this event from the dead of summer to a devastatingly hot and humid place, as it did at the 1964 Olympics. This was staged from October 10th to 24th as a concession to the weather.

Since then, of course, the Olympics have become much more of a television show. That has escalated the rights fees and also the influence that television stations can have on how and when the games are played. With NBC swinging the largest stick (it paid $ 7.75 billion for the rights to all Olympics from 2021 to 2032), the decision to host those Olympics would never be dictated by the weather.

Fall may be the ideal time from a meteorological point of view, but it certainly isn’t when it comes to battling King Football and new seasons of TV shows on American programming. The Summer Olympics would be held in the middle of summer, despite one of the least welcoming climates possible at the time.

A pandemic was not in sight. Oppressive heat and moisture? Not as much. The wellbeing of the athletes was not exactly the main concern when planning this Olympics. It was probably not a problem at all.

This is not a new phenomenon. Part of Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Olympic Games was the brazen misrepresentation of the average summer temperatures there. According to the Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Organizing Committee Chairman Billy Payne told the IOC in 1990 that the average temperature in his city would be “about 72 degrees” in late July and early August. The highs are actually in the upper 80s.

Open water post race heat

While no one is shocked to learn that summer is hot, it is a callous disregard for competitors to lessen the possible effects of excessive heat. For example, there is fatal evidence of the dangers of open water swimming in extreme conditions.

The American Fran Crippen died in 2010 when he competed in water off Dubai that was said to be 87 degrees. In the period that followed, USA Swimming set up rules that state that no races may start in water with a temperature of 29.45 degrees Celsius / 85 degrees Fahrenheit. FINA, the umbrella organization for international swimming, has a standard of 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

The open water events here were within those parameters, but not by much. This was an event that was on the verge of uncertainty.

To prepare for the inevitable sauna that awaited them, American open water competitors Anderson, Ashley Twichell, and Jordan Wilimovsky exercised in a heated plunge pool by the pool in Mission Viejo, California in April. “It wasn’t fun,” said Anderson.

Anderson, who has now competed in the open water in the last three Olympics, said her ideal water temperature for racing is 75-78 degrees. She did not complain about driving in water almost 10 degrees warmer and stressed that the conditions are the same for everyone and that she has trained for this case.

But what would she think of an Olympic open water swim in October versus August?

“October would have been good for me,” she said.

More Olympic coverage:

• Sakura Kokumai’s All-Consuming Odyssey for Karate’s Olympic debut
• The stories – and the science – behind the electric target dives in athletics
• India’s field hockey squad talks about the potential of an Olympic nation that is falling short

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