With two years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, organizers finally appear to have things under control — although serious concerns remain over Japan’s deadly summer heat.
As Tokyo staged countdown events in roasting temperatures across the Japanese capital yesterday, officials said they are firmly on track for the Games, which are to open on July 24, 2020, following a calamitous start to preparations.
However, despite fears over the searing heat and the political and financial rows that have plagued the buildup to the city’s first Olympics in more than half a century, Japan’s athletes cannot wait to compete at a home Games.
“There is an awful lot of work to do in the next two years, obviously, but I’m already getting goosebumps,” said Daiya Seto, who won swimming bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “I’m incredibly lucky to be able to race at an Olympics in Japan — I’m determined to seize the opportunity.”
World champion climber Akiyo Noguchi vowed that nothing but the Olympic title would do for her.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of pressure as a home athlete, but all I’m thinking about is winning that gold medal,” the bouldering star said.
A successful unveiling of the Olympic mascots, dubbed Miraitowa and Someity, over the weekend built on recent momentum following a series of public relations disasters.
Tokyo has already opened its first permanent venue for the 2020 Games — a welcome boost after plans for the Olympic stadium were torn up by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe three years ago over its US$2 billion price tag.
Designs for the official Games logo were then scrapped after accusations of plagiarism, causing further embarrassment.
That was followed by more bad news in October last year, when Olympic organizers admitted that prolonged summer rain had brought high levels of bacteria to a venue earmarked for triathlon and open-water swimming.
However, with Tokyo taking steps to reduce its US$12 billion Games budget, officials claimed that they have steadied the ship.
New venues have been unveiled and the New National Stadium is already 40 percent complete.
However, with Japan gripped by a heatwave that has already claimed dozens of lives, many have questioned the wisdom of staging the Olympics at a time when temperatures regularly exceed 35°C.
When Tokyo first hosted the Games in 1964 they were held in October.
“Yes, in recent days Tokyo and Japan has been like living in a sauna every day,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Monday. “For the athletes, I am sure they are training and very healthy in their bodies, but for the spectators, who are cheering along the roadside, we cannot necessarily say they are training themselves to be very healthy.”
“So, indeed, how to deal with this heat? This is one pillar needed for the success of the 2020 Games,” she said.
Earlier this year, experts warned of the risks of heatstroke at the Games, which are to run until Aug. 9, 2020, with conditions reaching levels at which sporting activities would normally be halted in the country.
Organizers are looking at a variety of countermeasures to deal with the heat, including scheduling marathons to start at 7am.
They also want to grapple with the heat head-on using the latest technology.
“We have developed mist-spraying technologies, which are nanoparticle-sized. It is a mist spray,” Koike said. “In terms of the road, there is the heat-blocking or insulating technology. If this heat-blocking pavement is covering the asphalt then, on average, there will be a temperature suppression of 8°C.”
Organizers have talked of spraying more than 100km of road, including the route for the marathon and walking events.
“We are pleased to see that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has a plan to install this heat-proof road surfaces in various city center [locations] with a total length of more than 100km,” Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said. “This includes the marathon course, so it will be able to contribute to the countermeasures on heat.”
Although no product has yet been approved for use by Tokyo 2020 organizers, a compound produced by Fujita Road Construction Co made an appearance at the Heat Solutions Expo in the Japanese capital.
The product makes pedestrians feel a couple of degrees cooler by reflecting heat and ultraviolet rays when sprayed on road surfaces.
While Olympic organizers remain under pressure to come up with ways to beat the heat, Japanese athletes might not be complaining if gets a little toasty.
“We’ll be more used to the heat and humidity than many of the foreign athletes,” said Seto, who will be aiming to beat compatriot and reigning Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino in the men’s 400m individual medley.
“When Kosuke won in Rio, it lit a fire under me and with any luck it will be my turn to win gold this time,” the two-time world champion said.
“Watching Japan do well at the [FIFA] World Cup in Russia got me even more fired up about the Olympics. A gold medal in Tokyo will have even more value, so it’s up to me to go out and win it,” he said.
“You don’t get many chances like this in life — I want to make it count,” Noguchi said.
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