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Fears Grow Over Heat Dangers at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

    2019/9/1

    There are growing concerns that heat and humidity during the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer could be dangerous to the athletes.

    Summer temperatures in the Japanese capital often reach 35 degrees Celsius or higher. There also is strong sunshine and humidity can reach 80 percent.

    Olympic rings are displayed in front of the construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, during a media opportunity in Tokyo, Japan July 3, 2019. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)
    Olympic rings are displayed in front of the construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, during a media opportunity in Tokyo, Japan July 3, 2019. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)

    Earlier this month, a worker at the Olympic building area in the city died from heat stroke.

    This year, high temperatures beginning in late July were blamed for the deaths of at least 57 people.

    George Havenith is an expert on the effects of temperature and climate on athletes at Britain's Loughborough University. He said the heat and humidity could be dangerous.

    Humidity interferes with the body’s natural cooling system, he said, and that could make it very difficult for the athletes.

    Heat stroke a real danger

    Heat stroke is a big danger, especially for endurance events, Havenith said. "About 15 percent of athletes even in a cool environment have body temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius." But, when the temperature gets above 40 degrees Celsius, he said, more athletes could face heat stroke.

    Tokyo has held several endurance test events in recent weeks, including a triathlon and a swimming marathon. Japanese swimmer Yumi Kida hopes to compete in the Games next summer. She said conditions in Tokyo Bay were difficult.

    "The sunlight was strong and the water temperature was high. When I joined the race, I worried I might suffer from heat stroke," she said.

    Additional measures needed to ease heat effects

    Event organizers have changed the start times of several endurance events to begin early in the morning. They said they are taking other measures to ease concerns about the heat.

    Yasuo Mori is with the Tokyo 2020 Games Operations Bureau. He told reporters, “I also hear they are deploying medical staff every 50 meters of the marathon course." He added that more water than usual will also be available.

    Havenith said additional measures may be needed.

    "Having ice baths available for the athletes to cool them down quickly…it's very important to have that, because if you decide to (take) them to the hospital before you do the cooling, you put them at risk.”

    Tokyo last held the Olympics in 1964. At that time, the Games were moved to October to avoid the summer heat. That is no longer possible because of the demands of international broadcasters.

    Scientists say all athletes should arrive in Tokyo early so they can adapt to the climate.

    I’m Susan Shand.

    VOA’s Henry Ridgewell reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

    Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.

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    Words in This Story

    humidity – n. the amount of moisture in the air

    athlete – n. a person who is trained in and good at sports

    heat stroke – n. a serious medical condition caused by body temperatures that are too high

    endurance - adj. the ability to do something difficult for a long time

    triathlon – n. an endurance sport that has three parts: swimming, bicycling and running

    marathon – n. a race that is about 42 kilometers

    adapt –v. the ability to change to deal better with present conditions