Press Release12 Aug 2020

One year out from Olympic marathon, World Athletics encouraged by racing conditions in Sapporo


A general view of Sapporo (© AFP / Getty Images)

As part of World Athletics' clean air initiative and its ongoing research into athletic performance in extreme environments, staff from the Health and Science department recorded environmental and air quality data along the Tokyo 2020 Olympic marathon course in Sapporo, Japan, on Saturday (8), exactly one year before the men’s race is scheduled to take place.

At the invitation of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games organisers, Health and Science department director Dr Stéphane Bermon and department manager Dr Paolo Emilio Adami surveyed the course on electric bicycles, one carrying a portable Kunak Air Mobile Air Quality Station, which measures levels of PM2.5 and PM10 particulate matter, ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), four elements which research has shown to have a strong impact on health and athletic performance. Temperature and relative humidity were also monitored, and all the data, which was sampled every 10 seconds, stored in a secure cloud for further analysis.

For the first time, a black bulb equipped with thermal sensors was installed in the front of the bike, enabling the calculation of wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT), an index of heat stress.

While the initial results are only preliminary, Dr. Adami, who commandeered the bike with the monitor, said the early indicators were positive.

“The wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) that we monitored so closely at the World Athletics Championships in Doha was just perfect here, on average 16.4°C (+/- 61.5°F), with a max of 17°C (+/- 62.6°F),” he said, well within the Category 1 white safe area.

More than 15,000 data points were collected over three hours, each of them linked to  its coordinates, that will help World Athletics researchers to better understand the air quality and heat that athletes would be exposed to, along the course, if there were no traffic restrictions.

“If the conditions are the same next year, the athletes will have a great race,” Dr. Adami continued. “The section of the course that goes through the Hokkaido University Park is beautiful, shaded, between lily ponds and small creeks. That’s the part of the course where the WBGT is lower due to the trees.”

“In general the air quality was very good and it reflected a normal urban environment with regular traffic conditions.”

Miguel Escribano, Kunak's Business development manager, assisted with the monitoring from his office in Spain and also agreed on a positive initial assessment.

“Preliminary results show levels for all pollutants below the limit values recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with the typical trends in urban environment caused by traffic emissions,” Escribano said.

“The thermal stress levels stayed in the safe area the entire time, with a tangible improvement each of the three times that the rider crossed the Hokkaido University Park.”

Escribano said that ozone(O3) levels observed followed a typical pattern, increasing steadily through the early hours of the morning, due to the reaction of sunlight and other pollutants such as NO2.

The next step is the reconstruction of the GPS data to allow a more detailed analysis of the course with more spatial resolution, Escribano said.

“This is an extremely important exercise that will help World Athletics, Kunak Technologies and other partners improve the protocols and take a giant leap forward in the Clean Air programme.”

Dr. Bermon and Dr. Adami were among the first recent visitors to Japan who did not need to go into quarantine upon arrival.  Strict protocols were in place from arrival at the airport and throughout their entire stay.

About World Athletics’ clean air initiative

Working in partnership with UN Environment (UNEP), the World Athletics clean air initiative kicked off in September 2018 when the first air quality monitoring device was installed at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, followed by similar installations at stadiums in Addis Ababa, Sydney, Mexico City and Yokohama. That project will link many World Athletics-certified tracks around the world to create a real-time global air quality database.

Monaco's Herculis Diamond League - in collaboration with the Monegasque government, World Athletics and Stade Louis II - is the first athletics meeting to display live air quality data. Not only can it be used by athletes to determine the best times to train, it will also make athletes and spectators aware of air quality conditions as they prepare for the event.

With its feet firmly on the ground on five continents, the project ventured outside of stadiums for the first time at the Telcel Mexico City Marathon last August where the project hit the streets running. Later World Athletics monitored conditions at the EDP Valencia Marathon in December and the Marrakech Marathon in January.

World Athletics