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Olympic marathon during Sapporo's longest heatwave in 97 years

Ben Domensino, Thursday August 5, 2021 - 14:54 EST

When officials decided to move the Olympic race walking and marathon events to Sapporo, they didn't expect the races to coincide with the city's longest heatwave in close to a century.

Image: Sapporo CBD. Source: Nryate, Wikimedia Commons.

Back in October 2019, the International Olympic Commitee (IOC) announced that the two outdoor endurance events would be moved from Tokyo to Sapporo. The reason was to reduce the amount of heat stress athletes would be facing in Tokyo during summer.

The move that made sense on paper. At this time of year, the average daytime temperature in Sapporo is around 5ºC cooler than Tokyo.

But this week, Sapporo is as hot as Tokyo as an oppressive heatwave plagues the Hokkaido city that hosted the Winter Olympic Games back in 1972.

Sapporo's average maximum temperature during July and August is about 25-26ºC. However on Monday, the city registered its 13th consecutive day above 30ºC for the first time in 97 years. Sapporo's 34.4ºC on Tuesday was 1.5ºC hotter than Tokyo. This run of days over 30ºC is likely to last until at least Sunday.

This week's heat is also being exacerbated by high relative humidity, which has been making it harder for athletes to cool down through sweating.

On Thursday, a day were Tokyo was running hotter than Sapporo, the air temperature in Tokyo was 33.8ºC in the middle of the day and the relative humidity was 58 percent. This combination of heat and humidity made it feel like 41ºC at midday.

Maximum temperatures are expected to reach 32-34ºC in Sapporo between Thursday and Sunday, which is when the race walk and marathon are scheduled to take place. Despite relocating the races to escape the heat, Sapporo is forecast to be hotter than Tokyo from Friday to Sunday.

The current heatwave has also capped off an exceptionally hot month for Hokkaido. Sapporo just registered its warmest July on record based on mean temperatures, with data going back to 1877.

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