Heat, humidity, storm: at the Tokyo Olympics, athletes face the elements

The sticky heat sticks to your skin. Between the incessant sound of cicadas and the dazzling green of the vegetation, there is an air of tropical jungle this Tuesday, July 27 in Izu, a peninsula located 200 km southwest of Tokyo, where the mountain biking events are played. cross country. At 3 pm, at the time of departure, a breeze arises and refreshes spectators and runners. The conditions are milder than the day before, but heavy rain still disrupted the morning preparation. And the 27 degrees – and 80% humidity – is unusual for female runners.

The French Loana Lecomte and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who failed in the 6e and the 10e place despite their status as favorites, had prepared for this adversity. With cycling sessions in “thermo room”, these cabins which, like a sauna, reproduce the weather conditions of the moment. Loana Lecomte even inflicted sessions at home with heating and air humidifier.

A necessary adaptation, because the combo of humidity and heat makes it difficult to cool the body, as perspiration cannot evaporate. “These are conditions we have never had”, recognized the world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot at the end of her race.

Each team sought the parade

In fact, each team looked for the parade. “The Italians trained in hypoxia (cabin where oxygen is rare, Editor’s note). We saw during the men’s race that it didn’t work, notes Yvan Clolus, manager of the France team. We chose acclimatization to the heat. “

Canadian side, “We also worked in a hot room, but we also did an internship in Andorra, taking care to arrive in Japan ten days before the competition, to acclimatize”, says coach Dan Proulx. In the area reserved for teams, Konstantin Gubanov Gubanova is busy, cold bottles in hand. The physiotherapist of the Spanish team prescribed “Good hydration” : “There are two technical areas on the circuit. In one, we give an isotonic drink (at a density close to that of blood, which allows good absorption) ; in the other, a container of water so that they are sprayed. “

Everyone is aware of the strength of the elements

If the heat remained bearable Tuesday, it has already done damage during these Games. Russian archer Svetlana Gomboeva fainted during an ordeal in Tokyo on Friday, before being evacuated on a stretcher. At the end of the grueling road cycling race on Sunday, the first Frenchman David Gaudu (7e) confided to be passed “Not far from the heat stroke”. His compatriot Guillaume Martin (27e) also suffered: “I was a little asleep, stuck, with weird sensations and difficulty climbing the towers. “

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In Japan, everyone is aware of the strength of the elements. It is also 15 km from the Izu mountain bike circuit, in Atami, a town on the mountainside, that a devastating mudslide caused the death or disappearance of at least twenty people after rains. torrential waves just three weeks ago. Further northeast of the main island of Japan on Tuesday, a tropical storm, Nepartak, passed, with high winds and heavy rains, shaking up the Olympic program somewhat.

Organizing the Games in the summer, an economical choice

However, there was a way to avoid this inhospitable climate: to postpone the Olympics. Can’t organize them at another time of the year? Tokyo had done so during its first Games, in 1964. They were held in October, like those in Mexico in 1968. “At the Rome Games in 1960, a strong heatwave affected the health of athletes, recalls sports economist Pierre Rondeau. It was therefore decided to take the lead. This is something that must be done a long time beforehand. “

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This year, the organizers have contented themselves with relocating the marathon and walking events to the island of Hokkaido (in the north), where conditions are more lenient. Not enough, according to the president of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki, who believes that there is “Always high risk of heatstroke in the walking, triathlon and beach volleyball events. “

The choice of summer, according to Pierre Rondeau, is above all economical: “The summer periods are the most important for tourism” – with the exception of this pandemic year. And it can be explained by the weight of the American media, which buy broadcasting rights from the IOC: “They have a lot of power, they want to prevent the Olympics from falling at the same time as popular sports in the United States: basketball, baseball, football. “ This is why, in particular, the swimming finals take place in the morning in Tokyo – late evening for the American spectator.


In mountain biking, the disillusionment of the tricolor tandem

It has been three times that Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (10e) misses the only title missing from its record: the Olympic gold medal. The world champion fell on a rocky climb, then suffered a puncture. Not better for Loana Lecomte (6e), 21, who has dominated the circuit all season. “ These are my first Games, I have no regrets. See you in 2024! “, she said.

The two champions could draw inspiration from the Swiss team, which grabbed the three places on the podium thanks to a more collective race and preparation. “We tried to prepare them separately, it didn’t work. Let’s try it together next time ”, suggests manager Yvan Clolus.


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