Preparing for Tokyo Olympic Weather–Hot & Humid

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Tokyo Olympic air conditioned equestrian stabling. Photo: Japan Business Group Equestrian Federation

Nov. 6, 2019

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

With air conditioned stabling for horses, competitions under lights at night, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics nine months away and sport governing bodies around the world are making intensive preparations to deal with what may be the most torrid weather conditions in the history of the Games.

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has been working for three years with one of the world’s leading experts on equine performance in challenging climates and has provided a lengthy, detailed report on preparing for the Tokyo Olympics and extremely hot and humid conditions when the Games open late next July.

So concerned about the weather is the International Olympic Committee that it made a late and controversial decision to re-schedule the marathon and walk competitions from Tokyo to a northern city where temperatures are as much as 6C/11F cooler.

About 200 horses–60 dressage, including 15 teams of three per nation; 65 eventing and 75 jumping–will be flown in from around the world for equestrian sports on the modern Olympic competition schedule where it has been for well over a century.

Two other Olympics in recent years have dealt with similar conditions–Atlanta in 1996 and Beijing in 2008 when equestrian sports were staged in Hong Kong.

The average minimum temperatures in Tokyo, according to an official report prepared for the Olympics, “are also higher than the other recent host cities during the preiod of the Games.” It gave the average maximum temperature as 31.6C/89F with seven or eight days in August above an average of 35C/95F. Humidity was in the high 70%.

To avoid what could be the worst conditions for equestrian that cannot be moved from daylight, eventing cross-country start is being moved up to an hour earlier to 7.30 or 8am, organizers report.

Steffen Peters and Ravel competing for USA at the 2008 Olympic Games where equestrian events in Hong Kong were held at night because of hot and humid weather. File photo. ©  Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com.

Competitors from the 1996 Atlanta Games who are preparing for Tokyo were asked by dressage-news.com about their experiences and how to cope–Lars Petersen who competed in Atlanta in 1996 for Denmark and now lives year-round in Wellington, Florida where conditions in summer are similar to Tokyo at the same time of year, and Steffen Peters who rode Udon for the United States in 1996 and Ravel at Hong Kong in 2008.

Lars, coach of Daniel Bachmann Andersen and Agnete Kirk Thinggaard who are contenders for Denmark’s Olymic team, asked how Europeans could best prepare for Tokyo, quipped: “Come to Florida.”

Agnete is doing just that with the horses she is campaigning but Daniel’s top mounts are stallions and need to be at Blue Hors for breeding.

Contenders for Japan’s dressage team will also be based in Florida with coach Christoph Koschel, of Germany, who bases himself in winter at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington.

Riders who are prospects for their nation’s teams, Lars said, should start working with warmups. In Atlanta, he said, he rode in the morning, rested for four to five hours before the competition then warmed up for about 10 minutes ahead of going into the arena.

He stopped importing horses from Europe into Florida in the summer because the heat and humidity is too hard on them. And he said he noticed in Tryon at the World Equestrian Games last year that some horses felt the heat though it was September and not as hot or humid as Tokyo could be.

“Going from Europe to Tokyo,” he said, “I think some horses will struggle. Some horses will handle it fine but I think all horses will feel it in some way. If horses have never been in this kind of climate, it could be like hitting a wall.”

Steffen Peters who with Suppenkasper is seeking a place on the U.S. team for what would be his fifth Olympics if successful had similar advice.

The way he prepared for Atlanta and Hong Kong, said Steffen who will be based in Wellington in winter along with other prospective American team combinations, “was getting by with shorter and shorter warmups. I warmed up for 20 minutes. That worked out beautifully to have misting fans immediately afterwards.

“I don’t think there should be any excuses later that it was hot. We knew it was going to be hot, we knew it was going to be humid. Our horses had to be fit. I like to do some conditioning once in a while just like the eventers do; canter for 10 to 12 minutes, then 12 minutes up to 15 minutes on a long rein and work on some cardio.

“As for myself, I like to get on the stairmaster for 30 minutes and every five minutes I go to high intensity for one minute to bring the heart rate to 150/155. Then over four minutes I let the heart rate come down to 120 and do this five minutes in that 30-minute period of time.

“Also we have a heart monitor for the horses. With Mopsie (Suppenkasper) we can go up 120 with piaffe/passage. We want to make sure we give them enough rest before the next piaffe/passage.

“I don’t believe in changing feeds or supplements. Of course, we have to watch the hydration, that’s a no-brainer. The good thing is Mopsie likes to drink a bucket of water any time he gets done, anyway.”

Debbie McDonald, the U.S. team coach, also competed Brentina at Hong Kong and is based in Wellington for several months each year.

Air conditioned judges box ready for Tokyo Olympics. Photo: Courtesy Janet Foy

Stables will be air conditioned at both the main equestrian center where dressage, eventing dressage and stadium jumping as well as jumping will be staged and the cross country course. Training and competition are scheduled for early morning and evening under floodlights. A world class veterinary team closely monitor horses and there will be multiple cooling facilities of tents, fans, ice and water as well as mobile cooling units.

For humans, shade will be provided, special cooling tents/areas, including cold misting fans, tents/shade when queuing to enter venues. In a change from normal Olympic security measures, spectators will be allowed to bring bottles/water into venues as well as a host of other measures for officials and volunteers including rest periods, shade and rest areas.

The FEI has a targeted education campaign for national Olympic committees and federations, athletes, grooms and team officials preparing for Tokyo, acclimatization, management of horses and athletes in such conditions.

Dr. David Marlin, a Briton who is an equine respiratory and exercise specialist and works at universities in both the U.S. and the U.K., has studied the impact of climate on horses since before the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 led a research study for Tokyo.

The FEI-commissioned report aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments found that horses “generally coped extremely well” with conditions at the Tokyo test event that included eventing cross country.

The study monitored the combined effects of long travel times and distances, time zone disruptions, and heat and humidity on competing horses. Horses were monitored before and during the test event, including how they adapted to the challenging climate in Tokyo. Central to the report is data collected on-course and post-competition, which allowed for detailed analysis of the cross country test.“The study findings show that horses generally coped extremely well with the conditions and remained in good health for the duration of the test event, held at the same time of year as the Games in 2020…” the FEI reported.