How Hot is Too Hot?

After 57 heat-related deaths in Japan, how can climbers prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

On August 15 in central Tokyo, the starting gun went off at 7:30 a.m. Athletes from around the world began a swimming, biking and running endeavor in cloudy 84 degree weather. The thermometer soon climbed to 91, while the humidity cranked up to a suffocating 83 percent. The event mostly served as a test for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but for a handful of the women it was an Olympic qualifying race.

One French triathlete, Cassandre Beaugrand, began feeling off following the 1.5-kilometer swim (which was halved from 3 kilometers by event organizers because the water temperature was 86.5 degrees, barley below the 87.9 degree limit) and the 40-kilometer bicycle leg of the race. Beaugrand completed the 5 kilometer run (which was also halved by organizers) and finished 19th. Shortly thereafter, she was taken to the hospital for severe dehydration and was administered an IV drip. 

Beaugrand was not the only attendee that suffered from the heat. Racers could be seen collapsing at the finish while paramedics hurried to help.  All this despite efforts to mitigate effects of the heat. Staff handed out Ice bags at water stations, misters cooled spectators and swimming and running distances were shortened.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, the French team coach Stephanie Deanaz said “competitors would have been in an even more serious situation if the skies had been clear and the race had not been shortened.”

Next year during the 2020 Olympics, marathon runners will take on a course that has been coated with heat-blocking agents to reduce surface temperatures. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also released a pamphlet titled “Beat the Heat,” which recommends athletes acclimate to Tokyo by training there two weeks prio to the Olympics. But will that be enough? 

While climbers don’t have to sustain physical activity as long as runners, they will still face a triathlon of their own: Speed, Bouldering and Lead all in one day, on outdoor walls. 

“I really can’t really imagine climbing right now,” said Adam Ondra in his Road To Tokyo video series. Following the World Championships in Hachioji, Ondra toured Tokyo to see for himself where the climbing wall will be built and what the conditions will be like. After sweating in an empty lot for the camera, Ondra was quick to find a vending machine with a cold drink.

[Also Watch Road to Tokyo #27: One Year Before The Olympics]

After analyzing weather patterns, Meteorological Research Institute concluded that the extreme heat is the direct result of global warming. “There is a high possibility of hot summers occurring at an unprecedented frequency in the future,” Yukiko Imada, a senior researcher at the institute, told The Asahi Shimbun .

Daily life turns into a dangerous game in such high temps. During the week of July 29 through August 4, 57 Tokyo inhabitants died from heatstroke while 18,347 others were hospitalized. In the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Sport Climbing will take place exactly a year later, August 4-7. 

There are things climbers can do to prepare themselves for the rising temps: drink plenty of water and/or sports drinks and find shade in between rounds. Skin will likely be an issue, so pack plenty of tape. Most importantly, climbers should acclimate before the comp begins. Ondra has already cranked the temps of his home wall to 93.2 degrees. Seems extreme, but it’s not a bad idea. Take care climbers by preparing for the worst!

Feature Image by Eddie Fowke/IFSC


 

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  • Delaney Miller is a three time U.S. Champion in the open Sports Climbing Series. In total, Miller has won 12 Championship titles between youth and adult, National and Pan-American competitions. She has three years of coaching experience and a degree in Health and Exercise Science from Colorado State University.

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