Tale of 2 Cities: Sapporo likes race move; Tokyo not much

Tale of 2 Cities: Sapporo likes race move; Tokyo not much
Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto speaks to journalists about a new plan on the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walking events, at the city office in Sapporo, northern Japan Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. The International Olympic Committee detailed a new plan Wednesday to stage the marathons and race walking events in Sapporo, the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics, which "will mean significantly lower temperatures for the athletes." (Yohei Fukai/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Sapporo officials are thrilled with a proposal to move next year’s Tokyo Olympic marathons to the northern Japanese city to avoid the summer heat in the city.

That was not the case in Tokyo, where the reaction to the move seemed to catch city and organizing committee officials by surprise.

“We take this as an honor,” Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said.

Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, has expressed interest in bidding for the 2030 Winter Games, and this could be a first step.

“I think this could pave the way for us,” the mayor said.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was not overjoyed on Thursday.

“We are very surprised to learn of this sudden change of direction,” she said, noting the effort that municipal governments had made to organize the race.

Koike, however, sided with the International Olympic Committee’s reasoning — that of athlete safety and avoiding Tokyo’s blistering summer heat.

“Of course, the athletes-first approach is extremely important,” she said.

The IOC released the proposal on Wednesday to move the marathons and race walking to Sapporo. The change was announced quickly, apparently with scant consulting with local organizers or government officials.

The trigger was probably the recent world track championships in Doha, Qatar, where 28 of 68 starters failed to finish the women’s marathon and 18 of 73 men failed to complete the course. The races were run at midnight in 38 degree C (100 degree F) heat.

Ethiopian distance-running great Haile Gebrselassie said athletes “could have died” in the women’s race.

The marathons in Tokyo were to start at 6 a.m. to ease the heat effect on runners. The men’s 50-kilometer race walk final was slated for a 5:30 a.m. start.

The IOC said a final decision would be made after games inspectors visit Tokyo for a meeting on Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

Forecast temperatures in Sapporo are “five to six degrees centigrade (about 10 degrees F) cooler during the day than in Tokyo,” the IOC said.

Koike said she wants the IOC to explain “to all of the games stakeholders, including the citizens of Tokyo.”

A report released last year by the national government’s Board of Audit said Japan is likely to spend $25 billion overall to prepare for the games. This is public money, except for the $5.6 billion in the privately funded operating budget.

Organizers dispute the figure and say it’s about $12 billion, though what are Olympic costs — and what are not — is subject to heated debate.

Tokyo projected total costs of about $7.5 billion in its winning bid for the games in 2013.

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