Tokyo must be having some serious second thoughts about taking on the Olympic Games. In addition to being saddled with an enormous tab, the host city has now lost one of the Summer Games’ signature events.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) ordered the marathons moved out of Tokyo to avoid the summer heat — a rash, overcautious edict that should give pause to any city considering a future bid for the Games.
No matter how much money a city and country spends on this bloated monstrosity — the bill for next year has climbed to a staggering US$25 billion — the IOC left no doubt on Friday that it has the final say on pretty much everything.
Therefore, the 42kn Olympic marathon course will wind through the streets of Sapporo, not Tokyo.
The IOC did not even bother consulting with the organizing committee before making the decision, a pompous, dictatorial move that would not have happened if these Games were being held in a country that has far more sway within the Olympic movement, namely the US or China.
While Tokyo’s blistering summer heat is an issue, it is not much different climate-wise than Atlanta, host of the 1996 Summer Games, Athens (2004) or Beijing (2008), the latter also plagued by thick pollution that added to the athletes’ risk.
However, the IOC was terrified of the images it saw at the world track and field championships in September in the desert emirate of Qatar. Even though both marathons began at about midnight, the temperature was 33°C for the start of the women’s race with stifling humidity, resulting in only 40 of 68 runners finishing. Many of those who did not collapsed on the course and were carried away on stretchers; others rode wheelchairs to receive medical care.
Ethiopian distance-running great Haile Gebrselassie said it was fortunate that no one died.
“With all the good work that’s gone into preparations, we didn’t want Tokyo being remembered — in the minds of your people and the minds internationally — by some of the scenes we saw in Doha,” said IOC member John Coates, who is overseeing Tokyo’s preparations, but is essentially the mouthpiece for his boss, IOC poohbah Thomas Bach.
Tokyo’s leaders, led by Governor Yuriko Koike, vigorously fought the decision, but they threw up the white flag on Friday, conceding they were powerless to stop the almighty IOC.
“The IOC has the final authority to change and we will not obstruct the decision,” Koike said.
More than a year ago, Tokyo organizers proudly announced a course that would have taken runners past some of the some of the capital’s most iconic landmarks, including the Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”), Imperial Palace, Zojoji Temple and Nihonbashi Bridge.
The marathon is one of the few events at an Olympics that allows the host city to show off its best side to the rest of the world. Essentially, it is a two-hour travelogue winding through the top attractions.
Most notably, the 2020 marathons were to start and finish at the new Olympic Stadium, reviving a tradition that was abandoned at the past two Summer Games in London and Rio de Janeiro.
“Visualizing running into the stadium, having that moment of silence where you go through a tunnel and then you get in the stadium and people are going nuts, it’s a really cool picture to think about,” said American runner Desiree Linden, who competed in the past two Olympic women’s marathons. “It’s certainly motivating.”