TOKYO - The International Olympic Committee announced Wednesday it is planning to move the 2020 Tokyo Olympic women's and men's marathons and race walking events to the cooler climate of Sapporo on Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido.
The women's marathon is set for Aug. 2 with the men's a week later. In order to avoid the extreme summer heat and humidity expected around that time of year in Japan's capital, the marathon start times had already been moved up to 6 a.m.
One year prior to the running of the women's marathon, the temperature at 6 a.m. at Tokyo's new National Stadium, where the marathons were scheduled to start and finish, exceeded 30 C.
Officials in Sapporo described learning of the possible move as coming "out of the blue."
"We have practical experience with running big competitions such as the Hokkaido Marathon, but will that know-how translate to the Olympics?" a Sapporo official said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was no less taken aback by the news.
"This change in plans was announced abruptly, and proceeding in this fashion raises questions," she said.
"So much effort went into working out the course and start time with organizers, the IOC and various bodies, so my feeling is one of surprise," she added.
In an IOC press release, International Association of Athletics Federations President Sebastian Coe said, "We have been working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the potential weather conditions at next year's Olympic Games and will continue to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the proposal to move the road events to Sapporo."
The IOC said Sapporo is preferable as summer temperatures are between 5 C to 6 C cooler than in Tokyo, although Japan's planning for its own marathon team had been centered around the race being in Tokyo. September's Marathon Grand Championship qualifying race for the Olympic team was run on the course that had already been laid out in Tokyo.
"The plans are part of a wide range of measures already being taken by Tokyo 2020 in consultation with the IOC and the International Federations to mitigate the effects of the temperatures which may occur next summer. The IOC has informed world athletics about the proposed changes," the IOC statement said.
"The implementation of the initiative to move the marathon and the race walks will be discussed with all the stakeholders concerned, in particular, the host city Tokyo, along with world athletics, the National Olympic Committees, Olympic Broadcasting Services and the rights-holding broadcasters."
The irony is that Tokyo's official Olympic bid described the July to August weather in the capital as ideal for competition.
"Because of that, the Tokyo side could not turn around and offer an alternative (like Sapporo)," sports journalist Masayuki Tamaki said. "This change is something that obviously should have been done, but the decision comes too late."
According to the release, a special session of the IOC Coordination Committee meeting running from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Tokyo will be dedicated to heat countermeasures.