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5 things to look for when watching the Summer Olympics

July 22, 2021

ASU lecturer says Japan is rich in history, diversity, geography ... and fun facts

With the opening ceremony set for Friday, July 23, the Tokyo Olympics are officially a go after a year of delays due to COVID-19. So now you can sit back, relax and enjoy the Summer Games. NBC is planning to air and stream 7,000 hours of live events, including highlights for its primetime broadcast each evening.

Maybe there’s even room for a history lesson or two.

While the Games date back to Ancient Greece, this year’s host site is equally rich in history.

Woman with long black hair

“Japan is a country that offers so much history, culture, natural resources and beautiful geography,” said Kumiko Hirano Gahan, a lecturer of Japanese in ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures. “The country also has a great spirit and as hosts, they always want visitors to have a great time and take the time to understand Japan.”

The country is spending $20 billion to host the Games, which will be spread across several cities and 42 venues. The Japanese prime minister has banned spectators from the sporting events to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection. He believes, however, the country will still benefit from the international exposure.

Here are five things to look for while watching the 2021 Summer Olympics, according to Hirano Gahan:

1. Marathon shares locale with Indigenous group

This year’s marathon was moved to Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido to avoid Tokyo’s intense heat and humidity. The island is near Siberia and home of the Ainu, an Eastern Asian race of people who preceded the Japanese. They have abundant hair, tattoo their mouths and speak an entirely different language, though that native language is diminishing. Officials estimate their total population to be around 25,000 people. In 2008, the Japanese government officially recognized them as Indigenous to Hokkaido.

2. Baseball, softball spotlight disaster recovery

Fukushima will play host to Olympic baseball and softball matches and was specifically chosen to showcase that it has recovered from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Daiichi nuclear disaster, which also occurred in 2011. Any bragging rights that the area was fully recovered were pushed to the wayside with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The multipurpose Fukushima Azuma stadium, which seats approximately 30,000, will not have any spectators on hand as Japan has banned all spectators from watching the Games, something that has not gone over well with Japanese residents, Gahan said.

3. Chiba introduces you to goalball

With the exception of Tokyo Disneyland and Narita Airport, Japanese residents say there isn’t much to do in Chiba. But that isn’t entirely true for the next two weeks as it will play host to a variety of Olympic events. They include fencing, surfing, taekwondo, wrestling and volleyball. The city will also host the Paralympic sport goalball, which is contested by visually impaired competitors. Teams of three attack on the court by rolling, bouncing and throwing a 1.25-kilogram ball with a bell inside, into the opposing team's goal. They compete over two 12-minute halves. The defenders listen to the sound of the bell and the movements of their opponents, and defend using their whole bodies. Watch a clip of goalball.

4. Live again at Budokan

The Nippon Budokan in Tokyo is an 11,000-seat arena known as the spiritual home of Japanese martial arts. The facility was built in 1964 where judo made its debut as an Olympic sport. Two years later the Beatles appeared at the venue in late June and early July 1966. They were paid $500,000 for five performances, and tickets were twice the going rate of any other pop act at the time. Their appearance was met with criticism from ultranationalists, who said the venue was strictly reserved for the martial arts. This created controversy, and approximately 35,000 police officers were utilized to ensure the band's safety. Watch a clip of the performance.

The Rockford, Illinois-based band Cheap Trick had released a series of critically acclaimed albums but was about $1 million in debt. That all changed when they recorded their 10-track live album “Cheap Trick at Budokan” in 1978. The album contained the hit single "I Want You to Want Me" and kick-started their career. It has sold more than 3 million copies to date.

5. Bikes in the shadow of Fuji

The road cycling event won’t take place on the open road, but on a race track. Fuji International Speedway in Oyama is the closest circuit to Greater Tokyo, which is about a three-hour drive. Oyama is in the Shizouka Prefecture, home to Mount Fuji, which stands just over 12,300 feet — the tallest peak in the country. The summit, which is still an active volcano, was forbidden to women until the late 1860s. Today it is an international tourist destination and mountain-climbing hot spot. A well-known Japanese proverb states that a wise man will climb the cone-like structure once in their lifetime, but only a fool would climb it twice.

Top photo: Mount Fuji in Japan is the tallest mountain in the country. It's also near the host site of an Olympic event in 2021. Photo courtesy of

Reporter , ASU News


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Heat and humidity will be a major factor for Olympic athletes

July 22, 2021

ASU researcher studied Tokyo heat in advance of the Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics, starting July 23, will be remembered for three things: a complete lack of spectators, being postponed a year because of a pandemic and searing heat.

Jennifer Vanos, an Arizona State University biometeorologist in the School of Sustainability, has been studying the latter for more than two years, publishing a suite of papers on subjects including planning for spectator thermal comfort, a climatological analysis and the need to integrate heat management among athletes, climatologists, events operators, public health officials and emergency medical technicians.

To get an idea of what athletes and officials could expect, Vanos and her team studied the big picture.

“We focused on looking at what was happening in terms of the large-scale atmospheric, ocean interactions that do impact Tokyo a lot to understand, based on what we know climatologically about Tokyo and based on what's happening on a large scale from a climatology perspective, could it be warmer or cooler on average?” Vanos said. “And we use the El Niño southern oscillation as one of the main drivers of understanding that.”

The other part of that paper honed in on urban differences. Scientific papers will often come out and say, "Here’s Tokyo’s climate based on airport data."

“That's great, but that doesn't give us a sense for where all these venues are and what the temperature at each venue could be at different times of the day,” Vanos said.

Anyone living here in the Valley is familiar with hearing what the temperature is at Sky Harbor, but also knowing that’s going to be far different from Arcadia or Apache Junction.

“Those average temperatures will differ depending on where in the city you are, and the humidity can differ to get them to be higher on the coast than if you're inland a little bit or in the city where there's a little bit less sources of moisture from the ocean,” Vanos said.

The challenge to athletes will be that as humidity rises, the efficiency of sweating drops. When it’s humid and hot, sweat drips instead of evaporating. That rarely happens in a place as arid as Phoenix.

“But in a place like Tokyo, it's pretty tough to escape that humidity, unless you go into a really well air conditioned building,” Vanos said. In 2018 she went to Tokyo and met with researchers. She said walking off the plane was like walking into a wet wall.

“I had never experienced that before,” she said. “And I grew up in a pretty humid place in the summer.”

Vanos and her team also linked exposures to the actual time when athletes will be competing. For example, the women's soccer final has been put in the middle of the day.

“Soccer is one of the sports that requires the most intensity with the least breaks,” she said. “And you're not getting much shading. Those players don't get many breaks. There's already a lot of forethought going into how to prepare for that, how to be acclimatized and how to make sure your athletes can perform in this heat.”

Media coverage of the heat frequently gets it wrong, she said. As the temperature goes up, the relative humidity goes down. The maximum humidity of the day and the maximum temperature of the day will never be at the same time. Maximum yield — the coolest part of both temperature and humidity — will occur at about 3 or 4 a.m. Maximum temperature will occur around 2 to 4 p.m.

“That's one thing that you hear sometimes from the announcers on the sports channels,” Vanos said. “That's one of the biggest things that is incorrectly stated, just because it's hard to understand.”

All marathon and race events have been moved to Sapporo in far northern Japan, 500 miles north of Tokyo. Heat at signature sporting events is becoming more and more of an issue, and more study will be required. In Doha, Qatar, at the World Athletic Championships in 2019, the women’s marathon was held at midnight. Almost half the field failed to finish the course because of the heat.

“And that's just not something you want to see at the Olympics, right?” Vanos said. “We're putting our top athletes in the entire world — the fittest people — into competition. And you don't want the heat to decide who finishes or not.”

Top image: by ooceey from Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News