Tokyo 2020 marathon to Sapporo finalized; golf venue will not change

IOC president Thomas Bach witnessed marathon runners collapsing during the Doha World Championships, leading to the switch in venues from Tokyo to Sapporo. Martin Bureau/AFP

TOKYO -- The confirmation of moving the marathon and race walking from Tokyo to Sapporo for the 2020 Olympics garnered such interest in Japan, the final part of the three-day meeting between various stakeholders was broadcast live to the nation.

The announcement of the move came midday on Friday, while it was also confirmed that no other events will be shifted to different parts of the country when the Olympics come to Tokyo next July. This includes golf, which had made a plea to move venues as well.

Fears about high heat and humidity in July and August next year are what led to the two long-distance events being moved 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) north to Sapporo, where temperatures will be on average 5 to 6 degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than in Tokyo at that time of year.

After much public saber-rattling and private political wrangling, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike reluctantly gave her approval to the International Olympic Committee's suggestion on Friday. Koike previously suggested moving the marathons to an earlier local start time of 3 a.m. (4 p.m. ET).

IOC president Thomas Bach had witnessed athletes collapsing and withdrawing from the marathons at the Doha World Championships -- 28 of 68 athletes did not finish the women's marathon, while 18 of the 73 men fell to the same fate in the extreme heat -- and called for the marathon and race walking to be moved. His suggestions were originally met with reluctance from Koike and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG).

Koike labeled the original announcement from the IOC, which came in mid-October, an "unprecedented turn of events ... with no discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo."

John Coates, the IOC's coordination commission chief, said on Wednesday at the start of the three-day meeting on heat countermeasures that they would use the time to fully brief the people of Tokyo on why they wanted to move the events, citing athlete welfare as the primary reason.

"If these events were held in Tokyo, it would have been the best idea," Koike said Friday. "I have no change in that basic concept. We cannot agree with the decision of the IOC, but the IOC has the final call. We will not obstruct the decision by the IOC. But let us say, this is a decision without agreement." Koike added that she received a letter from Bach on Friday morning in which he proposed an Olympic Celebration Marathon to take place post-Games on the route originally planned for Tokyo 2020. She also pointed to the World Bank's accelerated predictions for global warming and natural disasters due to climate change and suggested the IOC should therefore consider shifting northern hemisphere Olympics to different times of the year.

After the meetings began on Wednesday, a technical working group met on Thursday -- featuring representatives from the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the TMG and the government of Japan. They reached a general consensus: The IOC has final say on whether venues can and will be changed. The TMG will not have to foot the bill for the marathon/race walking move, while current expenses will be verified and potentially reimbursed if they cannot be used for other purposes. There will be no venue changes for other events.

That last outcome from the technical working group seemingly ends any chance of the golf being moved. Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a member of Japan's House of Councillors, wrote a letter to IOC president Bach calling for the golf to be shifted from Kasumigaseki Golf Club to Wakasu Golf Links in Tokyo Bay, explaining that his suggested alternative venue would be 4 degrees Celsius cooler. In a letter reported by Reuters, Matsuzawa argued that staging golf at its current location 50 kilometers northwest of Tokyo would be irresponsible and warned there could be fatalities due to the extreme heat if the golf remained at its current venue.

The Tokyo 2020 organizers had run a trial series of measures to combat the expected heat wave next July and August. At a canoe event at Sea Forest Waterway in September, they used a snow machine to fire 300 kilograms (about 660 pounds) of ice over spectators, but the temperatures before and after the trial remained the same.

Another idea to combat the heat was to produce umbrella hats for spectators, while the organizing committee also tried painting the roads with a type of resin to lower the heat from infrared rays. The longer-distance track races will all take place in the evening at Tokyo 2020, while the Rugby Sevens morning sessions will be scheduled to finish before noon.

The meeting in Tokyo took place as Japan prepares for Saturday's Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama. The IOC and Japan 2020 have noted that the World Cup organizers had to bring in preventative measures after Japan was hit in October with its most brutal storm since 1958, which has claimed 83 lives to date. The predicted impact of the typhoon led to tournament organizers canceling three matches, and with the Olympics taking place in typhoon season (peak season is August and September), the Olympic stakeholders also are wary of possible disruption if a typhoon hits during the games. The local organizing committee confirmed that none of the Olympic venues was damaged by the typhoon.

Coates and other stakeholders visited the Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium, which is set to be finished in the next few days. Coates described it as "simply magnificent," and the stadium, which cost $1.3 million, will officially open on Dec. 21 with Usain Bolt and other Olympic and Paralympic athletes participating in a relay named One Race.