How are the heat and humidity being managed at the Tokyo Games?

27 July 2021

Heat and humidity are intertwined in Japan, requiring maximum preparation by each athlete before their departure. While the Olympic dressage events have already started, the last batch of jumping horses arrived at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park yesterday. In order to allow each athlete to optimize their performance in the Japanese city's climate, comprehensive heat and humidity protocols have been put in place by the FEI and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee.

In Tokyo, the climate is temperate, with fairly mild and sunny winters and hot, muggy and rainy summers. The Japanese capital already hosted the Summer Olympics in October 1964 when the athletes were not impacted so much by the humidity and heat. This year, the event straddles July and August, the hottest and most humid months alternating with some rain.

Since the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, the International Equestrian Federation has been working to minimize the impact of heat and humidity on performance. The work done for Tokyo 2020 is a continuation of this. Measures against the heat have been put in place especially in the stables. Numerous cooling facilities have been set up with shade tents, cold misting fans, ice and water on tap, mobile cooling units, etc. Specific protocols mitigate the climate for training which is prohibited between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Warm up and events are scheduled early in the morning and in the evening. The work of the horses is monitored by means of thermal cameras that can accurately estimate body temperature from a distance of five to ten meters, allowing the horses to be monitored without interfering with the riders. Thus horses that are at risk of overheating can be quickly identified, allowing for timely intervention, for example by rapid cooling.

Sea Forest Park is the second site that will host the cross country event next Sunday. There will be constant monitoring using the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index. This measures heat stress in direct sunlight, taking into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation). This will be done every fifteen minutes during the cross country event. During the event, it will also be possible to stop a horse and use mobile cooling units to provide rapid cooling. They are also available for the Baji Koen arenas -.

In addition, cooling vests are also available to riders. The French eventing rider Karim Laghouag tested them in training! The vests are also used by the glassmakers who work in very hot conditions.

"We are in constant and direct contact with the weather information center. They are constantly monitoring the specific weather conditions at both equestrian venues, providing us with detailed information that allows the team on site to make informed decisions on whether a competition needs to be delayed or stopped," said FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström. "If there is a forecast of bad weather, we receive updates every hour, and this can be more frequent if necessary."

While all these facilities have been put in place for the well-being of horses and their adaptation to the Japanese climate, we also need to appreciate the incredible stabling reserved for the horses for these Olympics in Baji Koen. These stables comprise 333 boxes (4x3 meters) with air-conditioning and covered with rubber mats. Washing and drying machines are also available for the grooms.

Stable manager Patrick Borg is proud of the accommodation provided to the horses by the owners of the Baji Koen site, the Japan Racing Association: "We can compare the Tokyo stables to the Ritz in Paris. These are five-star stables for the horses. We try to do the best for them."

With release. Photo credit: FEI/Christophe Taniere