Some of the brains behind Ireland’s Olympic assault on Japan next summer are confident that Rory McIlroy and others competing in green can actually profit from the soaring temperatures and high humidity expected throughout the Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has already taken the drastic step of moving certain events from the Tokyo region and supplanting them over 1,000 kilometres north to Sapporo as a result of the hugely discomfiting conditions experienced in the capital this last summer.
The oppressive conditions in Doha for the recent World Athletics Championships, when a huge percentage of competitors pulled out of the women’s marathon despite a midnight start, has also served to concentrate minds on athletes’ welfare ahead of the biggest of all sporting events which starts in eight months’ time.
A number of recent test events have been affected by humidity with a women’s triathlon event having its running section slashed to just 5km. There have been suggestions that yet more events, the golf among them, might be shifted northwards to the northern island of Hokkaido next year.
Irish Olympic chiefs have poured cold water on that rumour. Deputy chef de mission Gavin Noble has pointed out that McIlroy has competed in all sorts of extreme conditions on the US PGA and European tours and that the weather, while making things far from easy, would be the same for everyone at the 2020 Games.
“The heat can actually work to our advantage,” Noble claimed. “80% of the field will be moaning about it so the athletes that prepare correctly and go with the right mentality should be able to gain places. As for myself and everybody in the (Sport Ireland) Institute, we don’t see it as something to be necessarily fearful of.”
McIlroy’s confirmation he will represent Ireland this time after the controversy over his decision to skip Rio is a huge boost for Ireland’s medal hopes and the OFI confirmed the four-time Major winner had been in touch long before the actual announcement earlier this year.
“It’s very positive,” said Sherrard of his commitment.
“It will bring a few challenges, but good challenges to have in terms of the global interest and that kind of thing. But it’s very positive and we want to make it an enjoyable experience, not just for Rory but for all the athletes.
“It’s about that experience and making them proud to compete at the Olympics. You see that within golf, looking at the Ryder Cup last year. You saw they announced ‘Olympian so and so taking to the tee’. You’d never seen that before, so it is changing.”
McIlroy’s participation, and that of Shane Lowry who is odds-on to join him, gives Ireland two strong shots at a podium. They will be part of an overall team that, at anything up to 110-strong, will be this island’s biggest ever and one with a number of excellent medal prospects across a range of sports.
It has been rumoured that Sport Ireland will soon publish a new strategy which includes medal ambitions not just for Tokyo but for the next two summer Games. The OFI has, after internal discussion with their staff and athletes’ commission, opted to shy away from such a bald statement of ambition.
It’s chiefs have also been at pains to be transparent about how it distributes its ticket allocations for 2020 in the wake of the scandal which engulfed the Irish Olympic movement and its former CEO Pat Hickey at the last summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
What’s clear already is that tickets will be like hen’s teeth for Tokyo. Some 70% of those offered up for sale during the summer were set aside for Japan and all were napped up in minutes. Demand for the remaining 30% across 206 markets was no less keen.
The OFI has made a priority of securing tickets for athletes and their friends and families. Jussi Viskari, CEO of the OFI’s authorised ticket seller Elaymus Group, expressed the hope that they would be able to accommodate everyone despite the demand.
His OFI counterpart Peter Sherrard differed in that regard.
“There will be some cases where people don’t get the tickets that they want and that will include athletes’ families,” said the CEO.
“That’s difficult to say but I think we’re better off saying it. We’re doing our best. We are micro-focused in how we deal with the athletes when they come into us.”
Sarah Keane, president of the OFI, has also distanced herself from reports that she was among the runners for a role on any new FAI board. She also confirmed that there has been no update from the IOC’s ethics commission as to its investigation into Pat Hickey and the Rio 2016 ticketing scandal.