Tokyo 2020 Olympics organisers test snow machine to beat the heat

By Rebecca Seales
BBC News, Tokyo

  • Published
Media caption,
Japan tests spraying fake snow to tackle the summer heat ahead of the Olympics

It was 25C (77F) in Tokyo, but snow fell in well-ordered flurries at a canoeing event in the Japanese capital.

It wasn't freak weather, but the latest innovation being tested by 2020 Olympics organisers hoping to keep spectators cool and comfortable when the Games take place next summer.

Around 300kg (47st) of artificial snow was sprayed over stands at the Sea Forest Waterway venue.

The goal: to see if it could lower heat and humidity levels.

Tokyo regularly sees temperatures of 35C and 80% humidity in July, prompting concerns that spectators could suffer heatstroke.

Sea Forest Waterway will host Olympic and Paralympic rowing and canoeing events.

Half of the 2,000 seats are uncovered, after plans for a full roof were scaled back to cut costs.

So on Friday, members of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee filled the stands for a five-minute snow machine trial, during a test event for the canoe sprints.

The result may not have been what they hoped for, however. The temperature there was 25.1C before the snow - and exactly the same afterwards.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Organisers say it helps the audience feel refreshed - and amused
Image source, EPA
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It's one of many strategies to keep the Games cool

Takashi Okamura, head of communication, command and control on the organising committee, told the BBC the result was "not as expected", but said the snow had other merits.

"The advantage of this machine is having a spray device to help the audience feel refreshed - and the amusement factor."

Snow, misting machines and umbrella hats

The machines, which have previously been used at music festivals, make snow by crushing ice and mixing it with air, and can cover an area of 15m (49ft) in windy conditions. Their cost has not been disclosed.

The organising committee has not firmly decided to use the artificial snow and said more tests would follow - including a second on Friday.

"Today is just a first trial," said Tomoaki Matsumoto, an official in the committee's venue services department. "But it is possible for us to use it."

Olympic chiefs have been developing cooling strategies since Tokyo was awarded the Games in 2013, trying everything from misting machines at stadiums to extravagant umbrella-shaped hats.

Recent summers have done little to allay fears of a boiling 2020 Games.

Image source, AFP/Getty
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Japan declared last year's heatwave a natural disaster

In 2018, the government declared a natural disaster after at least 65 people suffered heat-related deaths in a week, while July 2019 saw more than 5,000 people seek hospital treatment during a searing heatwave.

Last month, the International Triathlon Union shortened the running leg of an Olympic qualifier in Tokyo as temperatures reached 32C, declaring that conditions had reached an "extreme level".

Olympic officials initially appealed to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to adopt daylight saving time so endurance events could take place at the coolest time of day.

And while the clocks won't be going forward, the marathon races will start earlier than usual at 06:00 in a bid to beat the heat.

Paralympics concerns

Technology is playing its part too. Roads on the 26-mile (42 km) route have been coated in a heat-shielding material that reflects infrared rays, lowering their surface temperature by up to 8C.

The move is especially important for Paralympic athletes who use wheelchairs in outdoor events, as the design of such wheelchairs puts them very close to the ground. That can raise competitors' body temperatures by an additional 2-3C compared to someone standing.

In other measures, trees are being allowed to grow as much as possible to provide shade for spectators lining the roads, and buildings with air conditioning have been asked to throw their doors open to weary fans.

Organisers may also break with tradition to let spectators bring their own bottled drinks into the Games venues - something banned at previous Olympics due to issues around sponsorship and security.

The 2020 Summer Olympics will run from 24 July to 9 August, with the Paralympics scheduled from 25 August to 6 September.

Before that, though, the country will welcome an estimated 400,000 overseas visitors for the Rugby World Cup. While Tokyo will host the 20 September opening ceremony, the battle for rugby's ultimate prize will unfold in 12 stadiums around Japan - bringing a boost for regional tourism.