Tokyo 2020 – How Hot Is It?

At the 2020 Olympic Games, we’ll all supposedly be saying that “Tokyo is hot.” How hot is it, Johnny Carson aficionados might ask. Below is a little historical perspective on how hot the Olympic Games host cities have been during their Olympic months. Here are the stats for all the previous summer Olympics, in terms of the average temperatures during the Olympic months.

Year City NOC OMAHT OMMHT OMMT OMMLT OMALT
1896 Athina GRE 40 (105) 20 (68) 16 (60) 12 (53) 10 (50)
1900 Paris FRA 40 (105) 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60) 6 (43)
1904 St. Louis USA 43 (110) 31 (88) 26 (78) 21 (69) 8 (47)
1906 Athina GRE 40 (105) 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60) 10 (50)
1908 London GBR 37 (98) 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57) 7 (47)
1912 Stockholm SWE 36 (97) 22 (71) 17 (63) 13 (56) 4 (40)
1920 Antwerpen BEL 35 (95) 23 (73) 19 (66) 15 (59) 6 (43)
1924 Paris FRA 40 (105) 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60) 6 (43)
1928 Amsterdam NED 32 (90) 22 (72) 17 (64) 12 (54) 5 (41)
1932 Los Angeles USA 41 (106) 29 (84) 24 (74) 18 (64) 9 (49)
1936 Berlin GER 38 (100) 24 (75) 19 (67) 14 (58) 5 (42)
1948 London GBR 37 (98) 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57) 7 (47)
1952 Helsinki FIN 33 (92) 22 (71) 18 (64) 14 (58) 5 (42)
1956 Melbourne AUS 41 (106) 22 (72) 19 (66) 11 (52) 3 (37)
1960 Roma ITA 38 (99) 27 (80) 21 (69) 15 (59) 8 (48)
1964 Tokyo JPN 33 (91) 22 (71) 18 (64) 14 (58) -1 (31)
1968 Ciudad de México MEX 29 (84) 23 (73) 17 (63) 11 (52) 0 (32)
1972 München FRG 30 (86) 19 (66) 14 (57) 9 (48) 0 (32)
1976 Montréal CAN 36 (96) 25 (77) 21 (69) 17 (62) 6 (43)
1980 Moskva URS 38 (101) 24 (76) 19 (67) 14 (58) 1 (34)
1984 Los Angeles USA 41 (106) 29 (84) 24 (74) 18 (64) 9 (49)
1988 Seoul KOR 35 (95) 26 (78) 21 (70) 17 (63) 3 (38)
1992 Barcelona ESP 33 (91) 29 (83) 24 (76) 20 (68) 12 (53)
1996 Atlanta USA 41 (105) 32 (89) 27 (80) 22 (71) 12 (53)
2000 Sydney AUS 35 (95) 20 (68) 15 (60) 11 (52) 5 (41)
2004 Athina GRE 40 (105) 34 (93) 29 (84) 24 (75) 10 (50)
2008 Beijing CHN 38 (101) 30 (86) 26 (78) 21 (69) 11 (53)
2012 London GBR 37 (98) 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57) 7 (47)
2016 Rio de Janeiro BRA 36 (97) 26 (78) 22 (71) 19 (66) 11 (51)
2020 Tokyo JPN 39 (102) 31 (87) 26 (80) 23 (73) 15 (60)

Legend: OMAHT = Olympic month absolute high temperature, OMMHT = Olympic month mean high temperature, OMMT = Olympic month mean temperature, OMMLT = Olympic month mean low temperature, OMALT = Olympic month absolute low temperature. The temperatures are all given in degrees as “Celsius (Fahrenheit)”.

Here are the cities ranked from hottest to lowest during their Olympic months, in terms of the mean (average) high temperature

Year City NOC OMMHT OMMT OMMLT
2004 Athina GRE 34 (93) 29 (84) 24 (75)
1996 Atlanta USA 32 (89) 27 (80) 22 (71)
1904 St. Louis USA 31 (88) 26 (78) 21 (69)
2020 Tokyo JPN 31 (87) 26 (80) 23 (73)
2008 Beijing CHN 30 (86) 26 (78) 21 (69)
1932 Los Angeles USA 29 (84) 24 (74) 18 (64)
1984 Los Angeles USA 29 (84) 24 (74) 18 (64)
1992 Barcelona ESP 29 (83) 24 (76) 20 (68)
1960 Roma ITA 27 (80) 21 (69) 15 (59)
1988 Seoul KOR 26 (78) 21 (70) 17 (63)
2016 Rio de Janeiro BRA 26 (78) 22 (71) 19 (66)
1900 Paris FRA 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60)
1906 Athina GRE 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60)
1924 Paris FRA 25 (77) 21 (69) 16 (60)
1976 Montréal CAN 25 (77) 21 (69) 17 (62)
1980 Moskva URS 24 (76) 19 (67) 14 (58)
1936 Berlin GER 24 (75) 19 (67) 14 (58)
1908 London GBR 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57)
1948 London GBR 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57)
2012 London GBR 24 (74) 19 (65) 14 (57)
1920 Antwerpen BEL 23 (73) 19 (66) 15 (59)
1968 Ciudad de México MEX 23 (73) 17 (63) 11 (52)
1928 Amsterdam NED 22 (72) 17 (64) 12 (54)
1956 Melbourne AUS 22 (72) 19 (66) 11 (52)
1912 Stockholm SWE 22 (71) 17 (63) 13 (56)
1952 Helsinki FIN 22 (71) 18 (64) 14 (58)
1964 Tokyo JPN 22 (71) 18 (64) 14 (58)
1896 Athina GRE 20 (68) 16 (60) 12 (53)
2000 Sydney AUS 20 (68) 15 (60) 11 (52)
1972 München FRG 19 (66) 14 (57) 9 (48)

As you can see, Tokyo does not project to be the hottest Olympic Games on record. In fact, recent Games, notably Athina 2004 and Atlanta 1996 were both hotter. Granted, Athina was a relatively dry heat, but Atlanta’s humidity is almost exactly the same at Tokyo. Beijing 2008 and Los Angeles 1984 were also close to the same temperature as Japan, albeit both with less humidity.

Note that in the chronological listing of summer Olympic cities, the cooler cities were in the early years of the 20th century, for the most part, back when the Games were usually held in northern Europe.

Also note Tokyo 1964, when the Games were held in October, against Tokyo 2020. The average high in 2020 should be 31° C. (87° F.), while in 1964 it was 22° C. (71° F.). This is also true of other Games held in the autumn, as both Ciudad de México (MEX-1968) and Seoul (KOR-1988) can be quite warm, but holding those Games in September-October mitigated problems with the heat.

The marathon is the event of most concern, although the race walks, especially the 50 km will also be affected. These are the starting dates and times for the Olympic marathons since 1896.

Year Class Event Date Time
1896 Men Marathon 10 April
1900 Men Marathon 19 July 1430
1904 Men Marathon 30 August
1906 Men Marathon 1 May 1505
1908 Men Marathon 24 July 1433
1912 Men Marathon 14 July 1348
1920 Men Marathon 22 August 1612
1924 Men Marathon 13 July 1700
1928 Men Marathon 5 August 1514
1932 Men Marathon 7 August 1530
1936 Men Marathon 9 August 1500
1948 Men Marathon 7 August 1500
1952 Men Marathon 27 July 1525
1956 Men Marathon 1 December 1515
1960 Men Marathon 10 September 1730
1964 Men Marathon 21 October 1300
1968 Men Marathon 20 October 1500
1972 Men Marathon 10 September 1500
1976 Men Marathon 31 July 1730
1980 Men Marathon 1 August 1715
1984 Men Marathon 12 August 1715
1984 Women Marathon 5 August 800
1988 Women Marathon 23 September 930
1988 Men Marathon 2 October 1435
1992 Men Marathon 9 August 1830
1992 Women Marathon 1 August 1830
1996 Women Marathon 28 July 705
1996 Men Marathon 4 August 705
2000 Women Marathon 24 September 900
2000 Men Marathon 1 October 1600
2004 Men Marathon 29 August 1800
2004 Women Marathon 22 August 1800
2008 Men Marathon 24 August 730
2008 Women Marathon 17 August 730
2012 Men Marathon 12 August 1100
2012 Women Marathon 5 August 1100
2016 Men Marathon 21 August 930
2016 Women Marathon 14 August 930

As you can see the recent trend has been to run the Marathon either in the morning or the early evening to lessen the effects of the heat. In the early years of the Summer Olympics, when they were usually held in Northern Europe, the marathon was often run in the afternoon.

What about Hokkaido, the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago, which has been proposed as the site for the 2020 Olympic marathons? The average mean temperature there in August is about 26° C. (79° F.). Better than Tokyo, but still warm if run in midday.

So Tokyo will be hot, but not unheard of for recent Olympic Games. As the world seems to be getting hotter, the effects of always holding the Olympics in July-August, in an effort to avoid competing with the NFL on television in the United States, may make choosing Olympic host cities more difficult in terms of safety for the athletes.

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