Tokyo 2020: Two years out, heat is on as fears linger over toasty Olympics

But despite fears over searing heat, and political and financial rows, Japan's athletes cannot wait to compete at home Games

In this July 20, 2018, photo,  people make their way in scorching heat near Tokyo station in Tokyo.  Searing hot temperatures are forecast for wide swaths of Japan and South Korea in a long-running heat wave. The mercury is expected to reach 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday, July 23, 2018, in the city of Nagoya in central Japan and reach 37 in Tokyo. Deaths have been reported almost every day. (Jun Hirata/Kyodo News via AP)
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With two years to go before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, organisers finally appear to have things under control - although serious concerns remain over Japan's deadly summer heat.

As Tokyo staged countdown events in roasting temperatures across the Japanese capital on Tuesday, officials insist they are firmly on track for the Games, which will open on July 24, 2020, following a calamitous start to their preparations.

But despite fears over the searing heat and the political and financial rows that have plagued the build-up to the city's first Olympics in over half a century, Japan's athletes cannot wait to compete at a home Games.

"There is an awful lot of work to do in the next two years obviously but I'm already getting goosebumps," Rio Olympic swimming bronze medallist Daiya Seto told AFP.

"I'm incredibly lucky to be able to race at an Olympics in Japan - I'm determined to seize the opportunity."

World champion climber Akiyo Noguchi vowed that nothing but the Olympic title will do for her.

In this July 11, 2018, aerial photo shows New National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics under construction, in Tokyo. The Japan Sports Council gave a progress report on the New National Stadium on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, saying the project is 40 percent complete with two years to go before the opening ceremony. (Kyodo News via AP)
The new National Stadium for Tokyo 2020 under construction, with the Japan Sports Council saying the project is 40 per cent complete. AP Photo

"I'm sure there will be a lot of pressure as a home athlete," the bouldering star said. "But all I'm thinking about is winning that gold medal."

A successful unveiling of the Olympic mascots dubbed "Miraitowa" and "Someity" last weekend built on recent momentum following a series of public relations disasters.

Tokyo has already opened its first permanent venue for the 2020 Games - a welcome boost after plans for the Olympic stadium were torn up by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe three years ago over its US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) price tag.

Designs for the official Games logo were then scrapped after accusations of plagiarism, causing further embarrassment.

That was followed by more bad news last October when Olympic organisers conceded that prolonged summer rain had brought high levels of bacteria to a venue earmarked for triathlon and open water swimming.

But with Tokyo taking steps to reduce its $12bn Games budget, officials claim they have steadied the ship.

New venues have been unveiled and the new-look Olympic stadium - likened by critics in its design to a hamburger - is already 40 per cent complete.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascot Miraitowa and Paralympic mascot Someity wave with Japan's Paralympic long-jumper Hajimu Ashida and karateka Kiyo Shimkizu atop a cruise ship during their water parade upon their arrival at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan July 22, 2018.  REUTERS/Issei Kato
Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and mascot Someity wave with Japan's Paralympic long-jumper Hajimu Ashida and karateka Kiyo Shimkizu. Reuters

'Terror' warning

But with Japan gripped by a heatwave that has already claimed dozens of lives, many have questioned the wisdom of staging the Olympics at a time when temperatures regularly exceed 35 Celsius.

When Tokyo first hosted the Games in 1964 they were held in October.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike this week promised the threat of heatstroke would be given the same priority as measures to counter terrorism.

"I wouldn't call the heat a form of terrorism as such," she told reporters, comparing Japan's summer to "living in a sauna".

"But it's just as important because the purpose is also to protect people's lives."

While Olympic organisers remain under pressure to come up with ways to beat the heat, Japanese athletes will not be complaining if gets a little toasty.

"We'll be more used to the heat and humidity than many of the foreign athletes," insisted Seto, who will be aiming to beat countryman and reigning Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino in the men's 400 metres individual medley.

"When Kosuke won in Rio it lit a fire under me and with any luck it will be my turn to win gold this time," added the two-time world champion.

"Watching Japan do well at the World Cup in Russia got me even more fired up about the Olympics. A gold medal in Tokyo will have even more value, so it's up to me to go out and win it."

Noguchi added: "You don't get many chances like this in life - I want to make it count."