Athletes voiced concerns over water quality and temperature at a marathon swimming test event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Sunday, as officials vowed to monitor the situation closely in the run-up to the games.
“That was the warmest race I’ve ever done,” said three-time Olympic medalist Oussama Mellouli from Tunisia after completing the 5-km men’s competition.
“It felt good for the first 2 km then I got super overheated,” added the 35-year-old, who won gold in the 10-km swim at the London Olympics in 2012.
The event started at 7 a.m. with the air temperature already over 30 degrees Celsius in the Japanese capital, which is sweltering through a deadly heat wave.
“The water temperature was high so I’m a bit concerned about that,” said Yumi Kida, who said she guzzled iced water before the race in an effort to reduce her body heat.
International Swimming Federation (FINA) rules state athletes may not race when the water temperature exceeds 31 degrees and FINA’s executive director Cornel Marculescu said competitors’ well-being was top priority.
Marculescu said an external body would be set up in conjunction with Tokyo 2020 organizers to monitor both water quality and temperature in the run-up to the games and the results could affect the timing of the marathon swimming event.
“Based on this information, we will decide the time the event will start. Could be 5 a.m., could be 5:30 a.m., can be 6 a.m., can be 6:30 a.m. — depends on the water temperature,” he told reporters.
“Working with a specialized company like we are going to do here in Tokyo, we will have the right information to take the right decision.”
Hot weather issues have become the biggest headache for Tokyo organizers, who have already moved up the start time of several events including the marathon in a bid to mitigate the effects of Japan’s blistering summer heat.
In terms of water quality, David Gerrard from FINA’s medical committee said readings from the test event would not be ready for 48 hours, but previous results gave cause for optimism.
“What we have had are readings from the last month, daily readings that have given us very clear indications of the water quality, which has been good,” he said.
Organizers are desperate to avoid the embarrassment of the Rio Olympics in 2016, when the pool used for diving events turned an unsettling shade of green overnight.
Brazilian officials also had to scramble to clean up the bay used for sailing and windsurfing, which had been plagued by sewer bacteria and filthy with trash.
In October 2017, Tokyo 2020 organizers were left embarrassed after tests revealed levels of E. coli bacteria more than 20 times higher than international standards, sparking doubts about the venue’s safety.
At the time, the organizing committee blamed prolonged summer rain that had brought pollutants from offshore for the high readings between late July and early September.
A year later, organizers said tests using underwater “screens” to filter the water had successfully reduced bacteria levels at the venue, which will also host the triathlon.
Kida said the water was “a little stinky, and the clarity was not very good so I really want (organizers) to improve the quality.”