World Athletics to debate global calendar after scorching Tokyo Olympics

Sports Tokyo 2020

Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan is tended too after the 10,000m, which took place in sweltering heat and humidity. AFP
Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan is tended too after the 10,000m, which took place in sweltering heat and humidity. AFP

Tokyo, Japan | AFP

by Luke PHILLIPS

Track and field’s governing body will remain adaptable when it revists the global calendar after a Tokyo Olympics widely regarded as one of the hottest on record, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said Sunday.

In its bid for the Games, Tokyo argued that its summer included “many days of mild and sunny weather” and would offer “an ideal climate for athletes to perform their best”, but many competitors and volunteers have struggled with extremely hot and humid conditions.

The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, in 1964, they were held in October, but more recent Games have traditionally been held in a July-August slot, although the Seoul 1988 and Sydney 2000 Games were both pushed back to mid-September.

Tokyo organisers had moved the race walk events and two marathons 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Tokyo to Sapporo in the hope of cooler weather. That, however, did not materialise as the northern Hokkaido region battled a heatwave.

“They were difficult conditions,” Coe acknowledged.

“It’s inevitable global sport is going to have this discussion. You don’t have to be a devotee of climate change or a denier to know the world is getting hotter.”

Coe added: “The new norm is dealing particularly with endurance events in really harsh climatic conditions. That’s not always going to be avoidable if we maintain our championships in exactly the same order that we’ve done in the past.

“Going forward, the broader discussion has to be how are we going to schedule those events during the course of the year to enable athletes to be training and competing in the most benign of circumstances and at the moment it is difficult if the classic traditional diary/calendar remains untouched.

“The challenge we’ve got in sports part where big chunk of your sport is endurance based is being able to try to create opportunities where you’re not having to create field hospitals and have your team spending a year thinking about little else other than how we’re going to be coping with the welfare of the athletes. Nobody wants to do that.

“We are going to have to have that debate. It will mean revisiting what is possible and probably having to be more adaptable in the future.”

No surprises

The fast track at the Olympic Stadium showcased three world records and a startling 151 national records.

But Coe refused to be drawn on Italy’s shock 100m gold medal winner Lamont Marcell Jacobs, the little-known Italian racing home in an European record of 9.80 seconds despite not having broken 10 seconds before this year.

Jacobs’ victory followed Italian media reports that he had split from his nutritionist after discovering he was subject of a police investigation into the illegal distribution of anabolic steroids.

“Am I surprised by anything in Athletics?” Coe asked. “Not really. If you make breakthroughs, have performances that are outstanding, it’s inevitable that people ask questions.”

Citing his own track history, when he went from a European bronze to three world records a year later and then Olympic gold, Coe said track improvements were “not always an exact science”.

“It isn’t, ultimately, that easy to predict,” he said, adding that he had full confidence in the Athletics Integrity Unit, an independent track and field anti-doping watchdog.

“I’m satisfied that we have the best unit of its kind anywhere in sport to be permanently vigilant about any progress that is made.”

Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs powers to a shock victory in the 100 metres. AFP
Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs powers to a shock victory in the 100 metres. AFP

Innovation games

Coe, who won two Olympic 1500m golds for Britain, also downplayed advances in shoe and track technology as a potentially unfair advantage.

“I firmly believe performance is a mixture of all sorts of thing, it’s a multi-faceted set of ingredients,” he said.

“Wherever you look in sport… there’s innovation and development, and we shouldn’t be stifling that.

“Of course there’s a balance... I think we’re not in a bad space at the moment.”

Coe, who was head of the organising committee for the highly successful 2012 London Olympics, ended by heaping praise on Tokyo officials for having gone ahead with the Games despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Hosting a Games in normal circumstances is excruciatingly difficult: I know, I’ve done it,” he said.

“But hosting a Games under these mountainously difficult conditions has been nothing short of a miracle.”

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