LONDON – Athletes who opposed moving the Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the northern city of Sapporo wanted a competitive edge, IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday.
The International Olympic Committee decided last month to move the races to Sapporo because Tokyo would be too hot in August. Although the decision was angrily opposed by Tokyo’s governor and some competitors, Bach said the “vast majority of athletes” back the move.
“There are one or two voices of athletes who think they would be better prepared for races in heat than the others and wanted to benefit from this,” Bach said in London at event to announce a new Olympic sponsor. “But the responsibility of the IOC is to take care of the health of all athletes and to make it possible for all athletes, if ever possible, to complete the race.
“There have been consultations before, despite all the rumors going on, so we are really pleased with this decision because it is in the interest of the athletes and then also in the end the overall interest of the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020.”
Also Monday, Tokyo Olympic organizers said a looped course — starting and finishing in Sapporo’s Odori Park — is being considered for the events.
Any plan will have to be approved by the IOC, likely at an executive board meeting in December.
“While a loop-designed course was discussed during the meeting, the course details are still under discussion,” Tokyo organizers said.
The IOC abruptly announced the marathon and race walk changes last month, fearing Tokyo's summer heat could produce TV images like those seen in Doha, Qatar, during the world track championships.
Despite a midnight start, dozens of runners collapsed on the marathon course in Doha. Some were carried away on stretchers, and others rode wheelchairs to ambulances.
The IOC has rejected starting the Tokyo races at dawn, as organizers proposed.
“This decision with the marathon and the race walking was based on scientific advice we got from a working group, which we have established already last year, which is addressing all these challenges,” Bach said. “They clearly told us that the most exposed events would be the marathon and the race walk.”
The men’s marathon was originally scheduled for Aug. 9, the final day of the Olympics, and IOC officials have said they prefer to keep that date.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and her allies have said the IOC was inconsistent since it had known about Tokyo’s heat since the games were awarded in 2013. The IOC has also repeatedly praised Tokyo’s preparations to deal with the heat.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wade in Tokyo contributed to this report.