A Collection Of The Coolest Cooling Techniques At The 2021 Olympic Marathon

By: Louis Sartori

The Tokyo Olympic Games have been described as the ‘hottest games ever’ thanks to the country’s searing summer heat and high humidity levels. The conditions added an extra dimension to the endurance-based events, as athletes were forced to contend with the conditions as well as their competitors.

The final athletics events of the games; the men’s and women’s marathon, perhaps showcased these battles between athlete and temperature the best. They both took place at around 6-7am (local time), but still featured temperatures of around 86-90 degrees fahrenheit! The runners responded to these conditions in varied and interesting ways. So much so, that I thought it would be fun to compile a list of some of my favourites. Some heat-beating strategies were eye catching, some were bizarre, others were ingenious. The ironic thing is, Eluid Kipchoge won his gold seemingly without employing any strategy whatsoever, safe for the occasional ice bag-rub! His feat aside, here are some of my favourite ways that athletes responded to the heat last weekend

Galen Rupp- the ‘brain freeze’

Many athletes employed the tactic of putting ice inside their caps. However, no one managed to do it to as comedic effect as Rupp. A favourite to contend for medals, his tough day was compounded by the fact that he looked very odd running with ice bags stuffed under his hat. At times, he looked like someone trying to sneak something past nightclub bouncers or airport security; his cool, concealed cargo making his hat bulge in a myriad of humorous ways. 

Abdi Nageeye- ‘the mid-race snack’

Unlike the previous, this was a technique employed exclusively by Nageeye, I didn’t see anyone but the eventual silver medalist choosing to snack on their own vests. Maybe the others missed a trick though? He did come second after all. Maybe ventilation to the midriff is an underrated key for marathon success. The sweat on his singlet probably replaced some lost electrolytes too! 

Lisowska Alexsandra- the ‘rubbish collector’

I have few words for this strategy. Mostly because I don’t understand it at all. What is going on here? Is she trying to gather a bag of refreshments for later? Clean up the course? Who knows, it was fun to listen to the commentators as they tried to decipher her actions too, with little success. 

Eunice Chebichii Chumba- the ‘performing seal’

I saw many athletes employing this tactic during the marathon, but none were captured in as sweet a slo mo shot as Chumba. Watching her valiantly trying to run along whilst keeping an ice bag balanced atop her head was an impressive sight. Sadly, it was not a viable long-term strategy; after having to readjust and catch the falling bag multiple times, she gave up and probably took up a less humorous but probably more practical approach. 

Richard Ringer - the ‘stuff it down your pants’

This technique is pretty self explanatory, when I watched the men’s marathon live I did a double take as the cameras caught Ringer doing it. At first glance, it looks as though he needs the toilet and is holding the contents of his bowels up inside of him, with a firm hand to the back of the shorts. Nonetheless, given the conditions and the bulge in his shorts I think it is safe to say that this was just the moment he decided to store a cooling back of ice where the sun doesn’t shine. Nifty really, and probably not a bad strategy given every ice bag helped on the day. Ringer came in the top thirty in the end so maybe he was on to something here.

Fabienne Schlumpf et al. - ‘reverse psychology’

The women’s race especially, featured a good couple of athletes employing a reverse psychology tactic to defeat the heat. The shrewd use of arm warmers by various runners was a masterstroke. After all, there is no better way to convince your brain that you are cold, than making yourself more warm. All jokes aside, I’m sure there was a method to this madness. The sleeves probably provided more space to put ice on the athlete's person or helped carry some other cooling element. Nonetheless, it was funny to see multiple runners donning incongruous, heat retaining accessories, whilst the field around them was doing everything it could to stay cool.

Lelisa Desisa- ‘head or the heart?’

They say winning a gold medal is all about heart; you’ve got to want it more than the others and give it your all, on race day. On the other hand though, the marathon is a cerebral event. It requires racing brains and knowledge of the distance. You need to be thinking constantly, calculating when to make your move, how to pace yourself and reminding yourself where the key parts of the course are. Desisa, with all of his experience, clearly recognises this duality to the Olympic marathon. Here he is cooling both his brain and his heart, trying to keep both of them alive in the Sapporo heat. 

Morhad Amdouni- ‘anti-cooling, coolers-club’ 

Finally, this moment needs little introduction. Running social media was up in arms on Sunday when Amdouni was seemingly caught knocking the contents of a drinks table onto the floor; preventing his competitors from grabbing a bottle for themselves. The controversial moment even attracted the twitter fingers of resident british controversy merchant Piers Morgan, the political commentator and TV host lambasting the Frenchman in his tweet. If you ask me; as a diehard, purist fan of the art of staying cool in the heat, the strategy was a blinder. Why make yourself cool when you could make your opponents hotter? Genius. In all seriousness, the incident was certainly eyebrow raising but I’m sure there was more behind it than simple mal-intent on behalf of Amdouni. Either way, it deserves the last spot on this list for it’s pure bizarreness.