Local Olympian says IOC decision to relocate races may cost him a medal

Race walker Evan Dunfee awoke to the unhappy news that his quest for an Olympic medal will now take place in Sapporo instead of Tokyo next summer.

"I'm shocked," said the Richmond 29-year-old. "It's frustrating to see that we're catering to the ill prepared."

The IOC announced it is moving the marathon and race-walk events out of the 2020 Olympic host city because of heat concerns.

Temperatures in Tokyo during the July 24 to Aug. 9 Olympics are expected to be in the mid to high 30s C daily. Sapporo, 1,000 kilometres to the north, is normally five to six degrees cooler. 

Dunfee says friends and family who have already shelled out big money on tickets and accommodation in Tokyo now have to change all their plans.

Even more, he worries that the move to Sapporo may ruin his prospects of getting on the podium, a goal he fell just short of at the 2016 Rio Olympics where he finished fourth in the 50K.

"It's frustrating to me because I know that my chances of doing well in really adverse conditions are better because I do all the little things right," said Dunfee. "I know that makes it a very selfish thing, but, at the same time, it's the Olympics and I've dreamed of winning a medal, so I think I'm allowed to be a bit selfish."

Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Concern about holding endurance events in hot conditions was brought into sharp focus a few weeks ago at the World Athletic Championships in Doha, Qatar, where some accused track and field's governing body of using the athletes as human guinea pigs — making them race at midnight in stifling heat and humidity to avoid the even worse blast furnace condition of the daytime.

But Dunfee believes dealing with extremes is what endurance athletes sign up for.

In Doha, he prepared for the 50K by soaking in an ice bath pre-race to lower his core body temperature. It was just one of many tactics his team used to outsmart the competition and help him win a medal.

But Dunfee's displeasure over the relocation of the Olympic races isn't shared by everyone.

Getty Images for IAAF

Vancouver distance runner Rachel Cliff shattered the Canadian marathon record earlier this year and hopes to be selected to run the distance at the Olympics next year.

"Extreme and potentially dangerous heat conditions — that's not a competition.That's a survival game," she said. "That's not what the Olympics are about."

To her point, 28 of 68 competitors failed to make it to the finish line of the women's marathon in Doha. Some collapsed in the conditions and had to be stretchered off the course.

Like Dunfee, Cliff says moving the races to Sapporo will be a major inconvenience, something that could have been avoided had the decision been made earlier.  

"The organizing committee has been aware of the weather conditions for the past 20 years and everyone knows what Tokyo is like in the summer and now it's worse with climate change," she said.

"There's just no need for this announcement to happen so close to the Games."