There is plenty of worry over the heat expected at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The marathons and race walks were controversially moved to Sapporo, but the fate of the marathon swimming event remains uncertain. According to reports by the AP last week, American officials are making a stink about the water quality and water temperature at the Odaiba site for marathon swimming in Tokyo Bay.
The AP reports that even prior to the announcement of the marathon being moved to Sapporo, a group of athletes and 11,000 supporters had requested that the marathon swimming venue in Tokyo Bay be moved. It quoted unhappy voices from the group of athletes who plan to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, saying, "We want to take part in the Olympics, but what kind of price will we have to pay?" In addition, it said that a group of American officials were scouting locations for an alternate venue in one of the lakes at the base of Mount Fuji.
The Tokyo Olympics marathon swimming competition is a 10 km race through the natural ocean. The Odaiba venue drew complaints from athletes at August's pre-Olympic test event, who said that the water "smelled like a toilet." But in addition to the water quality, the water temperature is an important factor.
At the 2010 World Swimming Championships in the U.A.E., an athlete died due to high water temperatures. As a result of that incident, the international swimming federation set the maximum water temperature at which events can be staged at 31˚C. At August's test event water temperatures in Odaiba hit 30.5˚C, naturally creating unease among the competitors. And it wasn't just the Americans who started complaining.
A swim spokesperson commented, "Many Japanese officials are also beginning to view the water temperature and water quality at Odaiba as an issue. Seeing that the marathon was moved to another venue, many voices are now asking, 'Doesn't that mean marathon swimming should also be moved to a better location?'"
But is that even possible? Takashi Moriyama, an architectural economics expert who has worked on issues related to Olympic venues, commented, "For marathon swimming there is no need to build any 'big box' facilities. If the athletes raise their voices the IOC may listen and decide to make a change. But there's a problem. When the marathon venue was moved to Sapporo the IOC promised Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, 'There will be no further venue changes apart from the marathons and race walks.' This will be a heavy weight upon the IOC's decision making. It's possible that the IOC will not be true to its word, but that would be a major loss of face for the Governor."
If athletes are forced to swim in warm toilet water in order to protect Governor Koike's honor, it is hard to see that as in keeping her "athlete first" policy.
translated by Brett Larner