October 18, 2019 / 8:04 AM / a month ago

Olympics: Tokyo governor surprised by 'sudden' marathon switch

TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday she is surprised by the International Olympic Committee’s “sudden” decision to move the 2020 marathon to a northern city and there is no change in her thinking the race should be held in the capital.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike delivers a speech during a ceremony celebrating one year out from the start of the summer games in front of Tokyo Station in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Files

The IOC on Wednesday announced a plan to move the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, due to concerns about heat in Tokyo next summer, a switch the Tokyo 2020 president said the city had little choice but to accept.

Koike told a regular news conference on Friday, however, that while she shared the IOC’s emphasis on “athletes first” and putting the priority on their health, she did not agree with the decision and especially its suddenness.

She noted how much work Tokyo had put into heat-reducing measures and that the Olympics were less than 300 days away.

“To choose Sapporo so suddenly - why Sapporo, who decided this? There was no discussion, and I feel a lot of doubts about having this thrust on us,” she said.

“We have made many preparations and there’s no change in my thinking that it should be held in Tokyo.”

Adding that many people in Tokyo had been looking forward to the events, which Tokyo had planned in conjunction with IOC medical advisors since being awarded the Games in 2013, she felt the IOC owed the people of the Japanese capital an explanation.

“There’s a (coordination commission) meeting at the end of the month and I’d like to have more discussions on this,” she said.

Tokyo has taken a number of steps to mitigate the crushing heat of the Japanese capital in summer, including the use of mist machines and pushing for earlier start times for the marathon and race walking events.

Organisers had also planned to use heat-minimising pavement along the race routes.

Asked if she felt angry about the way the decision was made, Koike said her priority was making sure the Games succeed, part of which included fanning interest among Tokyo residents and making sure tickets are sold.

“I’m a bit worried that this may dampen interest in the Games instead of promoting it,” she added.

The Tokyo Olympics run from July 24-Aug. 9, a period when the Japanese capital struggles with high heat and humidity. When Tokyo last hosted the Summer Games in 1964 they were held in October to avoid the heat.

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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