Does Tokyo's heat make conditions too tough for triathlon?
With the marathons on the move to avoid the heat, there’s still time to reconsider Japan’s capital as the correct venue for the 2020 Olympic triathlon
Sergio Parisse had a point. The forward’s final bow in an Italian rugby jersey had been cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, with the contingency simply being that the World Cup group game with New Zealand on October 12th 2019 was called off and the points shared.
Italy needed victory to progress and so tumbled out of the competition, with the retiring Parisse questioning whether a better solution would have been found had those mighty All Blacks needed to win. While World Rugby defends its position, it was an unsatisfactory conclusion. Weather in Japan is unpredictable, that’s a known variable, and the hosting bid was won in 2009. It needed more forethought.
Japan hosts an even larger spectacle next year that cannot suffer equivalent mismanagement. But there’s already been plenty to heed from the Olympic and Paralympic test events. And with the additional prod from a women’s marathon debacle in Doha where 28 of 68 starters quit, a decision has been taken to move the marathons and race walks 700km north to Sapporo.
It’s a commendable move, and programme changes to combat the fierce heat have also been extended to both mountain biking and rugby sevens. But triathlon? Nothing, despite its test events laying bare the risk of changed formats or even cancellation come next July.
The guiding measure is the fiendishly complex wet-bulb globe temperature that takes into account temperature, humidity, exposure to direct sunlight and wind speed, to give a measure of perceived temperature. For the women’s test event, where the 10km run was halved, it was 28 ‘degrees’. For a full cancellation, it needs to be 32.2. Factor in that if the water temperature rises to above 31°C, the swim is shortened (it was 30.3 for the women’s race), you can appreciate how tight the margins are. The paratriathlon swim was also called off due to poor water quality.
Yet despite these multiple threats, the International Triathlon Union confirmed there are no plans for change – and no contingency. Yokohama was briefly considered, but just 20miles further south it does nothing to mitigate the heat.
Finding a venue further north in eight months cannot be an impossibility. To throw out a suggestion, Lake Toya, on the same island as Sapporo, played host to Ironman Japan for three years through to 2015. A revised location might annex triathlon from Tokyo, but sacrificing a city centre course for scenery is small compromise for a guaranteed show, and could be a boon in showcasing the best of Japan. After all, Weymouth wasn’t particularly close to London in 2012, but didn’t do the support for Ben Ainslie any harm.
For all counter arguments, intransigence over a venue that has already proved too risky remains. Plans have been made, tickets sold, training bases tested, athletes qualified, travel and accommodation booked, so the show must seemingly go on. Until, of course, we have a slightly warmer July day than average in Tokyo, and it can’t.
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