Haley Anderson competes in the mixed 5-kilometer relay final at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 18, 2019 in Yeosu, South Korea.
U.S. military bases in Japan will have some welcome guests next year.
In preparation for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, athletes named to the U.S. Paralympic Team in a number of sports will arrive in Japan long before the start of the Paralympics to train in conditions that will prepare them for Tokyo.
The arrangement is being lined up in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense, though the specific base or bases have yet to be named.
“That’s a unique setup that clearly gives us a little bit of a home-court advantage in terms of being on a U.S. base surrounded by other Americans with top-notch facilities and group-support services, whether those are medical facilities, dining facilities, other things to best prep our athletes,” Julie Dussliere, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s chief of Paralympic sport, said on a teleconference Monday.
That plan is one of many being set in place as U.S. athletes close in on the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The one-year countdown to Tokyo is beginning this week. The Olympic Games begin July 24, 2020, and a long line of test events in various sports have already begun. The Paralympic Games, which will feature a U.S. team coming off a strong performance at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, begin Aug. 25.
The qualifying process for the U.S. Olympic Team has already begun. A handful team sports have already earned the U.S. quota spots for Tokyo, while open water swimmers Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell became the first athletes to make the team by name after finishing among the top 10 in the women’s 10-kilometer race last week at the FINA World Championships in South Korea. Jordan Wilimovsky joined them two days later.
Fully qualified for her third Olympic Games, Anderson will go to Tokyo in August for a test event in open water swimming.
“One of the positive or cool things is to do the test event, see the venue, kind of see Tokyo before, do a test run before next summer,” she said.
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Finbarr Kirwan, USOPC vice president of summer sport performance, said he is anxiously awaiting the next year and the arrival of the Tokyo Games.
“The location is fantastic,” he said. “There is incredible Olympic history in Tokyo.”
“I’ve only heard amazing things about the Tokyo area and the culture,” added Oz Sanchez, a three-time Paralympian who is one of the top hand cyclists in the world with six Paralympic medals. He is the reigning road world champion in MH5 time trial and team relay.
At the same time, Tokyo will present some heated challenges. Think Atlanta. In summer.
The temperatures in Tokyo are likely to be in the 80s and 90s during the competition. Over the next two weeks, temperatures are forecast for the upper 80s and low 90s, with one day reaching a predicted 98 degrees. The temps in Rio de Janeiro, site of the 2016 Olympic Games, are 10 degrees cooler.
“Our athletes should not underestimate their experiences internationally. This will be challenging, but not unknown for us,” Kirwan said. “We’re working very closely with them.”
Officials at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, are already working on technology that matches Tokyo’s weather conditions so that U.S. athletes can learn how to cope with high humidity, control fluid intake and deal with other conditions they’ll face, Kirwan said.
For an open water swimmer, the conditions at a competition venue often require adjustments, Anderson said. Swimmers face hot temperatures, cold temps, water with strong waves or water with no waves.
“Open water swimmers are really good at acclimating themselves to each particular situation and race,” Anderson said.
Sanchez, who spent six years with the U.S. Marine Corps and lives in San Diego, an area with low humidity, wasn’t too concerned.
“It’s just one of those things, you’ve got to fly into the country a little bit early,” he said.
The Paralympic Games in Tokyo will also bring U.S. Paralympic athletes equal with U.S. Olympic athletes in terms of payouts for medals.
“It will be the first time that our summer Paralympic athletes will have the opportunity to receive equitable Operation Gold awards as their Olympic counterparts do. That’s a really exciting change we made in September of 2018,” Dussliere said. “We’re looking forward to supporting our athletes into the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
Tokyo’s venues themselves are receiving dress rehearsals in the way of athletic competitions this summer. Events in archery, surfing and cycling were held this past week. Upcoming events include an FIVB beach volleyball 4-star tournament this week in Tokyo and the ITU World Olympic Qualification Event in individual and mixed team triathlon in August in Tokyo.
“We’re getting great feedback on the venues,” Kirwan said. “The venues are progressing very well. The organization of the event is at a very high level. I think the preparation that has been done in advance of these test events has served our athletes very well. We’re very confident that the test events themselves are a reflection of what we can anticipate in Tokyo.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.