Olympians suffer alongside Tokyoites as heat rises in Japan

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A family member of a torch relay wearing a protective mask uses a portable electric fan to cool off while attending a torch kiss during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic torch relay celebration at Shinagawa Central Park in Tokyo, Japan, July 21, 2021. REUTERS/ Issei Kato

TOKYO—Many of the world’s top athletes, along with Tokyoites, will suffer the “ridiculous” heat of Japan’s high summer as the Olympics kick off this week in blistering temperatures, putting an additional strain on all visiting participants.

Japan’s weather agency issued a sunstroke warning for the fifth day in a row on Wednesday. The temperature in the capital, now in the throes of another hot and humid summer, was 33.1 degrees Celsius as of 3:00 p.m.

Organizers are rolling out tools to beat the heat, including fog spray stations for Olympic horses and cooling vests for referees. But the heat adds another complication for coaches and players whose training has already been affected by the pandemic.

“The Japanese summer is abnormal. There is humidity and the heat is ridiculous,” said Misuzu Ueno, a 24-year-old Tokyo resident. “This climate is not suitable for the Olympics.”

New Zealand men’s hockey team head coach Darren Smith said “a lot of work has been done” to prepare for the blistering conditions, which are expected to be especially challenging during the morning games.

“It will be hot,” Smith told reporters during a press conference at the Tokyo 2020 Main Press Center. He said the team had had enough training and preparation to prepare for the temperatures — including time in a heat chamber.

The high temperatures are likely to pose an additional challenge for athletes from countries in the southern hemisphere, such as New Zealand, where it is now winter. In Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, temperatures are expected to hover around 13 degrees Celsius this week.

The heat in Tokyo also adds a complication to coping with the pandemic: Experts have said that first responders can easily confuse heatstroke and coronavirus cases, as the illnesses show similar symptoms, such as high temperatures and dehydration.

“It’s not just COVID patients, there will be more patients with heatstroke, so I think it’s difficult medically,” said Mariko Hoshino, 44, a resident of Chiba, which is next to Tokyo.

New infections hit a six-month high of 1,832 in Tokyo on Wednesday, and experts have warned this could worsen, putting additional pressure on the health care system, which also faces more heatstroke patients.

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