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Scientists and athletes join to warn about danger of extreme heat in Summer Olympics


OK, athletes and global scientists have joined forces this week. They are warning in a report about the potentially dangerous impacts that heat and humidity could have during the Summer Olympics. You may recall the Tokyo Games saw athletes suffering pretty seriously in the heat during some events, and as global temperatures continue to rise, the threat to athletes' safety may become a feature of these contests that are held at the height of summer. Willem Marx reports.



WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: The Summer Olympics in Paris are only weeks away, with the Olympic torch now more than a month since it reached France en route to the opening ceremony.


MARX: But throughout the country, it's not just excitement that's mounting. It's the mercury as well. In the Northern Hemisphere, the month of July is among the hottest and most humid, say researchers like Kaitlyn Trudeau.

KAITLYN TRUDEAU: We can't say exactly what will happen this year. We can't say exactly what the temperatures will be like. But having looked at the last hundred years of temperatures, over the summer, I can say that it's definitely one of the most dangerous in terms of heat exposure.

MARX: Trudeau works at Climate Central, an independent group that reports on the impacts that climate change can have on the lives of all of us, including athletes.

TRUDEAU: Athletes I've talked to - they're incredible. They're like, we can do this. We push ourselves. That's who we are. It's in our blood. We really have to take a step back and understand that this is an extremely dangerous event, and what we saw in Tokyo was pretty remarkable.

MARX: In Tokyo, with 70% humidity and temperatures in the 90s, competitors vomited and fainted from the heat or were carted away in wheelchairs. The combination of heat and humidity causes dizziness, heat stroke, exhaustion or worse. Athletes from across several disciplines were involved in writing this report, including an American discus thrower, an Indian triathlete, a New Zealand tennis champ and a British rugby player called Jamie Farndale.

JAMIE FARNDALE: When you're on the pitch, you can't concentrate. Your mind's going crazy. You can't cool down. You feel sick after matches. And, you know, we're having to go out there and play six games over two or three days, and your core body temperature just doesn't drop.

MARX: Urban centers like Paris act as heat traps and retain the daytime's warmth well into the evening, giving athletes' bodies few opportunities to really cool down. Twenty years ago, one French heat wave where temperatures stayed higher than a hundred degrees for days led to 14,000 deaths. And the report's conclusion - a warning, really - was that the worst-case scenario during these games was an athlete's death and that, in future, Olympic calendars and schedules should be altered to take place at cooler times of day or during cooler months, with better rehydration and cooling programs for competitors. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx.

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Willem Marx
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