Osaka: Off the Charts

Take the heat off the athletes
By Philip Hersh, 8:39 a.m.

OSAKA, Japan – Whoever had the idea of holding major outdoor sports events at this time of the year in this part of the world had to be a sadist.

That goes not only for the World Track and Field Championships taking place here but the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and, potentially, the 2016 Olympics in Tokyo.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting down Tokyo, a magnificent city, to boost Chicago’s 2016 bid. And anyone who has spent the last two weeks being flooded, without power or frightened by Chicago’s infernal weather knows there is no way to ensure good conditions for outdoor events at any time in almost any place.

But the heat and humidity along Japan’s south and central coasts in August is predictably unbearable, never more so than it has been for the first three days of the track worlds.

It wasn’t a factor when Tokyo held the Olympics, in 1964, because those Games took place Oct. 10-24, when east Japan generally enjoys cool, autumnal weather.

Back then, television did not determine Olympic schedules. Since then, U.S. and European broadcasters have made it clear the Summer Olympics should be just that. Yes, there were exceptions in 1988 (Seoul) and 2000 (Sydney), but that likely won’t happen again. In fact, U.S. broadcasters, who pay the highest rights fees, want the Games over before pro and college football begin.

So Tokyo has proposed Aug. 12-28 as its 2016 Olympic dates. According to BBC statistics, the discomfort level (combination of heat and humidity) for Tokyo in August is rated, “high.”

The discomfort level in Osaka has been off the charts. Athletes, spectators, media and officials all have suffered. No one should be subjected to conditions like these. The temperature on the track at 3 p.m. Sunday was 121.
U.S. 400 hurdler Derrick Williams collapsed (he has recovered) after talking to reporters following his first-round heat. Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez, who won a third straight title in the 20-kilometer walk, said he cramped up throughout the race.

Twenty-eight of the 85 starters did not finish the men’s marathon, which began at 7 a.m. and finished in 91 degree temperatures 2 hours, 15 minutes later.

Yes, this has been an unusually hot summer for Japan, as it has for places in southern Europe and the southeastern United States. But even the norm for this time of year in Osaka and Tokyo is unpleasant. The rain forecast for later this week in Osaka – it could come as thunderstorms – would make being here even more disagreeable.

Athletes work too hard for too long to have world and Olympic titles decided by the ability to withstand heat. The International Olympic Committee must find a way to make TV bosses accept having the Olympics in September – or June – in certain parts of the world.

Doha, Qatar is a bidder for the 2016 Olympics. The temperature Monday in Doha was expected to reach 106. According to The Weather Network Web site, the “feels like” temperature was 129.

Give the Games to Doha in August? Only if they dome the entire country.

And, in oil-rich Qatar, they might do it.