Team USA's men's volleyball team in competition. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

Heatwave hits the Olympics

Extreme high temperatures and COVID-19 worries a daily reality for athletes, while Olympic officials work to beat the heat.

As summer hits and heatwaves ravish the likes of the pacific northwest in the U.S., another Olympic season is upon us. This year’s games are located in Tokyo and COVID-19 is not the only major issue at play. Global warming is slated to impact each sport differently. 

Currently, Japanese residents  are coping with 100 degree days without air conditioning, and now having to adapt very quickly to ever-changing heat related weather conditions. At the outdoor volleyball court, the sand is being continuously hosed down with water to cool the high temperatures because athletes complained that the sand was burning their feet

There are over 11,000 Olympic athletes competing in the 2021 games. So, athletes at the Olympic village have also  taken steps to protect themselves from the sheer amount of people post COVID-19, along with the heat and resulting humidity conditions. 

While deliberating about what date would be best, Olympic officials considered postponing the games until October when the weather was cooler, which was done at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Later, it was settled that they should maintain the traditional schedule. The committee decided that a summer date was best, because of better television coverage. Plus,  broadcasters pay billions of dollars for the rights.

Decisions being made

The decision to hold the games in late July and early August when temperatures are upwards of  95 degrees and humidity ranges from 70 to 80 percent in Japan has concerned  athletes. In the past, Olympic cities with high heat indexes have been dry rather than humid like the conditions in Tokyo. When there is high humidity, it creates a more difficult and uncomfortable event for the athletes. 

Former Professional athlete Romeo Travis of Akron Ohio, informed that “the heat will affect everyone differently. It depends on how you train. But, most professional athletes train in the air conditioning. They will have to hydrate before the events more than normal.”

Due to global warming, Japan has had some of its hottest weather on recond. To remedy heat concerns, the Olympic committee decided against spectators. Additional modifications have been made to the games based on the high heat index. Yet during the opening ceremony, temperatures reached 106 degrees in parts of the city. 

| Read: Tokyo Olympic officials get more aggressive in slowing down COVID-19 infections

High temperatures combined with humidity, can result in a myriad of health issues for athletes such as heat cramps and heat exhaustion. Ultimately, it impacts their performance. To complicate the dog days of summer, many symptoms of COVID-19 are extremely similar to heatstroke, such as fever, shortness of breath, headache, and nausea, which is concerning for the athletes to correctly identify which they are experiencing. 

Although Benedict College Head Coach Frank Hyland does not believe the weather will trump COVID-19, he believes that weather may play a part. He explained, “The athletes that are there have been through it all. In the [Olympic] trials, and NCAA Champions it was cold and then during the [Olympic] trials it was extremely hot.”

Hylad also points out the added stress of the waning effects of the pandemic. “It will be more [stress] on the mental health [of the athlete], the vaccine, the Covid-19,” he said. 

Olympic advantages and disadvantages 

Although protections are being made for the athletes and staff, which range from mist machines, to ice vests, many remain skeptical. There will be over 176 athletes competing in sports directly in the sun. For example, the triathlon, beach volleyball, kayaking and track. All of which are at an increased risk of heat-related health implications. 

In order to avoid the risk of having runners collapse during the races, marathon and walking events were moved to the city of Sapporo, which is in the cooler north. There is also the implementation of a “Heat Stress Index,” which monitors and mentions the heat threat at each individual Olympic location on an hourly basis. It is a five step scale that ranges from blue (safe) to red (danger). 

“The distance events will be a killer with the heat, for the short distances they will love it,” mentioned Brain Forrester, associate head coach at the University of Akron Track and Field Throwing. 

“Track and Field are six events, and weather plays a huge part. For the Pole jumper you would want a tail wind, in the throws you would like tail wind . . . [d]iscus[sing] head wind, not too hot 70-80 degrees. [In] distance events, perfect weather is 60 [degrees] and [the] wind totally calm.”

April Jones founded Pinehurst Farmers Market located in Columbia, S.C. She is an advocate for her community in the food justice and food sovereignty movement, and is passionate about community, gardens, and farmer markets.

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