LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – The marathon and a number of other outdoor events of the 2020 Tokyo Games will be held in the early morning to avoid scorching heat, according to a plan approved Wednesday by the International Olympic Committee.
Tokyo’s typically hot and humid summer has been a major concern for the games — scheduled from July 24 to Aug. 9, when temperatures frequently rise above 30 C — due to the risk athletes and spectators could suffer dehydration and heatstroke.
The plan’s approval comes as the country deals with a heat wave that has seen temperatures top 40 C, claiming eight lives on Wednesday alone.
The women’s marathon on Aug. 2 and men’s marathon on Aug. 9 will both start at 7 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than initially planned, while the men’s 50 km walk will start at 6 a.m. on Aug. 8, according to the revised schedule.
Toshihiko Seko, marathon project strategic manager at the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, said he would prefer a start time earlier than 7 a.m., expressing concern about how well athletes can compete under such heat stress.
“It will be a risky race. We want the organizing committee to set up as many mist showers and shaded areas as possible so everyone can complete the full distance,” he added.
The schedule also showed the games’ first event — a softball match featuring team Japan— will start two days before the opening ceremonies, at 10 a.m. on July 22 in Fukushima Prefecture.
Fukushima, hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting nuclear crisis, is also the starting point of the Olympic torch relay on March 26, 2020. The first baseball match, which also involves team Japan, will be held there July 29.
Kit McConnell, the IOC’s sports director, supported the idea to promote events held in Fukushima, saying it will help deliver a strong message from the area and provide a chance for people to learn about the disaster and the hardships residents still face.
Taeko Utsugi, vice president of the Japan Softball Association, expressed gratitude that softball — returning to the Olympic schedule after an eight-year absence — will be featured in the opening event of the games, and said it is reflective of people’s high expectations for the sport and the team.
“By showing our best efforts to the people of Fukushima, we hope to facilitate further rebuilding there,” she said.
The games’ organizing committee will produce detailed timetables for a record 339 events in 33 sports as it prepares to start selling tickets to the public next spring.
“We are certain that we will see unprecedented levels of excitement for the games,” said Yoshiro Mori, the committee’s president.
The finals of the women’s and men’s soccer competitions will be held Aug. 7 and 8, respectively.
The swimming schedule has yet to be confirmed due to ongoing talks on whether to time the finals for prime-time U.S. viewing hours.