Tokyo Games Could Push Athletes Health Past Deadly ‘Tipping Point’, Study Claims
A simulation has shown how the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games could be pushing athletes’ health over a deadly ‘tipping point’.
A Swedish technology company called Hexagon, which produces simulation software for Airbus, Toyota and Samsung, created a simulation to mimic the conditions for a male athlete competing in the 10,000m race in Tokyo’s Olympic stadium.
The race took place after sunset at 8.30pm today, July 30. However, the simulation showed just how dangerous the conditions were for the athletes to run in.
The simulation shows how the athletes running the 10,000m could be at severe risk of heatstroke, due to factors such as water loss, outside temperature and core temperature.
Running in 90°F (32°C) heat and 90% humidity subsequently raises a person’s core temperature to 102°F (39°C), which is a dangerous ‘tipping point’ for the human body, experts say.
Not only this, but when running a 10,000m race, athletes lose almost 1.5 pints of water, meaning the athletes could see their core head temperature reach upwards of 104°F (40°C).
Running in such extreme temperature conditions and with such loss of water could lead to athletes experiencing dizziness, sickness, seizures and at worst, lasting damage to their nervous system and brain due to the brain’s vulnerability to heat.
The simulation put forward two different scenarios. The first, with average conditions for the time of the year being 80°F (27°C) air temperature and 70% humidity. The second, with hotter than average conditions of 90°F (32°C) and 90% humidity.
In the second, hotter scenario, the simulated core temperature increased to 103°F (39°C), skin temperature to 98°F (37°C) and head temperature to 104°F (40°C).
For optimal functioning of biochemical reactions, research shows that humans must maintain their core temperature between 92°F and 102°F (35°C and 39°C). A temperature above 100°F (38°C) is considered feverish. The second scenario would subsequently put athletes at risk of cramps, exhaustion and heatstroke, the lack of wind to combat the high temperatures and humidity possibly even causing fainting and seizures.
Runners on July 30 could even have experienced core temperatures above 102°F (39°C) in under average weather conditions for July in Tokyo.
Humidity is another factor that impacts the outer temperature, athlete’s core temperature and, consequently, their performance.
On average, athletes sweat almost 1.5 pints of water if humidity levels are at 90%. Whereas for Tokyo’s average humidity levels of 70%, over the 30 minute duration of the race, athletes would sweat around 1.3 pints on average.
Although the evaporation of sweat from the skin normally helps the body to cool itself down, if it is too humid, the body will not see the same cooling effect and so will not benefit the athlete. On the other hand, dehydration would speed up the increase in body temperature and once more, would exacerbate the athlete’s body temperature.
While the simulation focuses on the men’s 10,000m race, the effects of the temperature, humidity and wind conditions will be felt across many of the sports, Hexagon engineers have said.
A member of the Hexagon’s manufacturing intelligence division, Keith Hanna, told MailOnline:
There’s been much discussion about the decision to hold the games in the Tokyo summer. These simulations show the extreme conditions that athletes will be competing under. Athletes are accustomed to pushing themselves to the limits and these simulations show how racing conditions impact performance as well as the risks undertaken when the human body is pushed to extremes.
What’s most interesting is the small margins of change – a couple of degrees shift in temperature can have a huge impact, so it’s only a matter of time to see whether we edge over that 39°C core temperature ‘tipping point’.
Tokyo’s summer weather conditions and the impact it will have on the athletes has been a growing concern, with experts having warned against running in the type of heat and humidity that athletes are facing.
Tokyo’s temperatures in the past two months are the highest of any Olympics host going back to 1984. And despite another Games having been rescheduled to October in 1964 over concerns for the heat, Tokyo 2020 has gone ahead.
After taking two breaks and being asked if he could continue to play, tennis player Daniil Medvedev spoke out against the weather conditions of the Games, ‘If I die, who’s responsible?’ Medvedev played in 30°C heat earlier today, however according to weather apps, the temperature was said to have felt closer to 36°C.
In her quarter final match against the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova, Spanish tennis player Paula Badosa had to retire due to the unbearable weather conditions. She ended her first set having lost 6-3. The temperature of the sand at Shiokaze park has also resulted in staff having to hose it down, after Beach Volleyball players complaining it is too hot to stand on.
Due to the current temperatures in Tokyo, and warnings from the environment ministry’s colour-coded scale system, residents have been advised to not exercise outdoors.
In 2019 in Japan, 71,000 people received medical care due to heatstroke, and from June to September 118 deaths were reported to be associated with the heat. In 2020, 65,000 people sought medical treatment and 112 deaths occurred, most likely only lower due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki said: ‘Holding the Games during July and August… was a serious issue even before the coronavirus pandemic. There are still high risks of heatstroke at events such as competitive walking, triathlon and beach volleyball.’
Athletes are not only competing with one another, but are having to contend with extremely challenging weather conditions as well; the forecast for both temperature and humidity levels unfortunately do not look like they are going to improve anytime soon.
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