By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - The route for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics marathon was announced on Thursday with the main feature being a steep incline to finish the race at the newly built Olympic stadium.
The route will pass through many of the city's historic and popular areas including Tokyo Tower and ‘Thunder Gate’ in Asakusa as well as the Imperial Palace, the primary residence of the Japanese Emperor.
The final stretch promises to be gruelling, with the athletes finishing on an incline averaging over 10 percent over three kilometres leading back to where they started at the Olympic stadium in the city's west.
Naoko Takahashi, marathon gold medallist at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, said she hoped the course would prove memorable in marathon-mad Japan.
“It is really exciting to imagine just two years from now the side streets along the Tokyo 2020 marathon and race walk route filled with countless fans,” said Takahashi, whose gold-medal winning feat was matched by compatriot Mizuki Noguchi four years later in Athens.
“I look forward to seeing some great performances from the runners, who will be encouraged by those fans lining the route. They will be memorable races.”
The route for the race walk events was also announced and will take place in the Imperial Palace’s Outer Gardens.
Marathon running is one of the most popular sports in Japan, with over one million people cheering on the athletes at the annual Tokyo Marathon.
The Olympic course largely resembles that of the Tokyo Marathon, one of the world’s most iconic running events which is held in winter to avoid the city's punishing summer heat and humidity.
Organisers for the July 24 - Aug. 9 Games said a start time for the marathon had yet to be decided but it is expected to be held early in the morning to avoid the worst of the high temperatures.
The last time the Olympics were held in Asia, at Beijing in 2008, the marathon started at 7:30 a.m. local time.
“As far as planning the course, we did not think especially about counter-measures against the heat. However, we are currently discussing how to cope with the high temperatures in general with Olympic management,” Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said.
The men’s marathon is traditionally held on the last day of the Games to close out the athletics calendar.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ian Ransom)