Heat conditions in Budapest and the impact on Jamaican athletes
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce prior to the start of the women's 4x100m relay at the recent World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. (Photos: Naphtali Junior)

A picture was sent to me of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce sitting atop a chair in front of an air conditioning unit as she attempted escape of the heat in Budapest.

She was desperately trying to cool down before her 100m race. I looked at Oblique Seville on screen at the start of the 100m heats and noticed that he was sweating a little too much around the neck. I glanced at his arms as he readied himself in the block and reasoned that his pattern of the evaporation of moisture from the skin indicated a little bit of maladaptation to the humidity and heat conditions in Budapest. I sent a quick note to Coach Maurice Wilson by WhatsApp asking him to implement some temperature adjustment strategies to ensure that our athletes remained safe in those conditions.

By that time, however, I think any strategies implemented, although useful, might have been a tad late. It was said that temperatures soared to above 37 degrees Celsius in Budapest; some events had to be postponed due to high temperatures. It was one of the hottest months in history. The USA came prepared as athletes donned ice vests and cooling towels. Gatorade or electrolytes intake was calculated to match increased fluid loss. Post-race lactate calculations were done so that massages and hydration adjustments could be individually tailored for each athlete.

Technical directors and coaches had Wet Bulb Thermometers (WBT) so that environment temperature could be matched to temperature in the physical space. That is, if the temperature got too high during training or warm up, strategies could be implemented to cut down on training time to reduce the risk of thermal damage to the muscles of athletes.

Jamaica's Oblique Seville reacts after the men's 100m final race during the World Championships at National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Hungary, recently.

World Athletics declared that Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) — which is based on a combination of factors including temperature readings, humidity, wind direction and cloud cover — was not acceptable on some days for athletes.

The 5000m heats were moved to 7pm on the Wednesday evening and the men's and women's 200m races began earlier than slated on the Wednesday morning.

I think Jamaicans did pretty well in spite of the heat challenges. Shelly-Ann has the heart of a lion. She faced a formidable challenge in competing against Sha'Carri Richardson and Shericka Jackson, her third-place finish was excellent.

At age 36 years her metabolism and energy output would be more affected by thermo-physiological excursions than her younger competitors — dehydration does put athletes at risk for severe injuries. Some athletes we expected to gain medals did not perform as anticipated.

Technical Leader Maurice Wilson (right) and media liaison Dennis Gordon address reporters at a press conference at Ibis Castle Hill Hotel in Budapest, Hungary, on August 25, 2023.

It leaves one to wonder if the conditions in Budapest were contributing factors to underperformance and injuries. It was our largest team ever yet our medal count was one of the lowest in recent times.

Young Jaydon Hibbert and Sean Bailey were injured, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce developed a muscle strain during the 4x100m relay. Wayne Pinnock complained of muscle tightness during his jumps.

Raw athletic talent is no longer enough; the competitive landscape is changing. Climate change is real, and sport science in athletic preparation has become non-negotiable. I hope we are better prepared to perform in the soaring temperature in Paris 2024.

The Jamaica Olympic Acssociation should make early preparations and map out a strategy to prevent heat exhaustion of our athletes so that they can give of their best as we grapple with the changes in performance strategies in the face of rising temperatures. I am ready and available to advise in this regard.

Editor's note: Rachael Irving (PhD) is a professor of biochemistry and sports science in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The UWI, Mona.


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