The final batch of showjumping horses taking part in the Tokyo Olympic Games arrive today, and they will join the other equine Olympians in air-conditioned comfort during their stay at the Baji Koen equestrian centre.
Officials are keeping a close eye on the weather, and there is constant monitoring of onsite climatic conditions using the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index, which measures heat stress in direct sunlight, taking into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation).
Tokyo temperatures in July and August can reach as high as 105º Fahrenheit (41º Celsius), so cooling measures are crucial to preventing overheating for all athletes, both equine and human.
The stables at both Baji Koen and Sea Forest Park, the cross-country venue, both have air-conditioned stables, and training and competitions are scheduled for early morning and evening when it is cooler.
The Baji Koen venue is owned by the Japan Racing Association. Stable manager Patrick Borg compares the stabling with “the Ritz in Paris”.
“It’s five-star stabling for the horses. We try to do the very best for them,” Borg said.
Both venues have shade, as well as special cooling tents and areas, including cold misting fans, for riders and grooms.
Other innovations, which were first introduced at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, include constant veterinary monitoring of the horses, and multiple cooling facilities including shade tents, cold misting fans, unlimited ice and water, and mobile cooling units.
The cooling tents are well stocked with water troughs, which are monitored by a team of volunteers who use ice blocks to keep the water at 59º Fahrenheit (15º Celsius).
Working horses are being monitored using thermal imaging cameras, enabling body temperature to be estimated accurately from a distance of up to 10 metres.
Official weather data and forecasts (primarily WBGT readings) from the official Tokyo 2020 weather provider, Japan Meteorological Agency, form the basis of decision-making about any rescheduling of events, combined with in-situ readings. In addition, onsite conditions are monitored multiple times a day by the FEI Climate Advisor David Marlin, in liaison with the FEI Veterinary Director, FEI Veterinary Commission, FEI Chief Steward and Tokyo 2020 Sport team.
FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström said the Weather Information Centre was constantly monitoring the weather specifically for the two equestrian venues. He said this allowed the onsite team to “make informed decisions on whether there may be a need to delay or interrupt a competition.”
“If there is bad weather forecast then we receive hourly updates, and this can be more frequent if necessary,” Akerström said.
The FEI has also made available a series of videos aimed at optimising both human and equine performance in hot and humid conditions. IOC advice on handling the heat at Tokyo has also been made available.