By Jack Tarrant and Yoko Kono
TOKYO (Reuters) – A 1000 kilometre, two-week relay which started in Northern Japan to raise awareness for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami ended in Tokyo on Wednesday in swelteringly conditions.
One year out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Japan has been struggling with rising temperatures and much of the relay has taken place in extreme heat.
Temperatures have been stuck above 31 Celsius (88 Fahrenheit) in and around Tokyo, with at least 57 people dying as a result of the heat since late July.
But that did not stop over 1,700 people from participating in the sixth edition of the event which began on July 24.
People carrying a commemorative sash could either run or cycle as the relay made its way from Aomori to Tokyo’s Komazawa Olympic Park, which hosted soccer and wrestling at the 1964 Games.
Those participating wanted to send a message of support to those still suffering in the Tohoku region as a result of the 2011 disaster, which left almost 18,000 people dead.
“My work is Tohoku-related and I wanted to return something to the people there, so I participated (in a relay) for the first time,” said Sorachi Kasho, shortly after getting off his bicycle.
Sydney Olympics marathon gold medallist Naoko Takahashi, who started the relay in Aomori and also crossed the finishing line with 200 others on Wednesday, said: “There have been very warm days, but by handing over the sash I believe people are also passing on their warmth (to Tohoku).
“I believe that it has contributed to having many smiles and connecting people’s hearts.”
Tokyo 2020 organisers have billed next year’s sporting extravaganza as the ‘reconstruction Olympics’ and the first event of the Games will take place in Fukushima, the site of a nuclear plant meltdown following the March 2011 earthquake.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant and Yoko Kono; editing by Pritha Sarkar)