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Tokyo Olympic athletes struggle with extreme heat; some suggest shifting schedule

Tokyo Olympic volunteers are seen wearing "umbrella hats" to beat the heat as they work under the sun in Tokyo's Koto Ward on July 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

TOKYO -- Athletes are beginning to complain about Tokyo's severe summer heat, with some proposing changing event times after competing in 30-degree-Celsius-plus temperatures, which have been a concern for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

    Men's world No. 2 tennis player Daniil Medvedev, competing for the Russian Olympic Committee, called it "some of the worst" heat he's ever experienced after his first-round singles match at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo's Koto Ward on July 24.

    "But you have to play," he said. "That's the Olympics, you go for the medal. You are not here to cry about the heat."

    According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the temperature around the venue was 30 C by 10 a.m. that day. Around noon, when the match began, the center court was baking in brutal heat.

    After speaking just a few words about the match, which he won in straight sets, Medvedev suggested that "matches maybe should start at 6 (p.m.) because the heat actually gets much, much lighter. We all try to practice at 6."

    Men's world No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic from Serbia, who played on the same center court after Medvedev, pointed out after his match, "Because it's very hot and also very humid, so the hard courts absorb the heat, and it stays trapped in there."

    Regarding Medvedev's suggestion that matches be moved to the evening to avoid the daytime heat, Djokovic said, "I agree with him 100%."

    "To be honest I don't understand why they don't start matches at say 3 p.m.," he said, adding, "It's actually for the TV broadcasters even better, because the later you play, the better it is for the United States and the time zones in Europe."

    In response, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sports Director Kit McConnell told a July 25 press conference that although competitions have been scheduled to avoid the hottest parts of the day, that "is not possible with every sport." While acknowledging dissatisfaction from athletes, McConnell said the IOC is putting all its efforts into the problem.

    The IOC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games says international sports federations can decide on changes including shifting the competition time. Organizing committee sports director Mikako Kotani stated, "Decisions have been made with the permission of international federations based on their experiences, but we understand the concerns about the heat. We would like to discuss it immediately."

    In tennis, an "abnormal climate policy" based on the Heat Stress Index (WBGT) for preventing heat stroke was introduced. If the temperature exceeds a certain level, a 10-minute break will be allowed between the second and the third sets, when requested by a player. During the break, the athletes can apparently take a shower and change their clothes.

    (Japanese original by Shun Iwakabe, Sports News Department)

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