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Olympics Canadian athletes use high-tech pill to monitor body temperature ahead of Toyko Games

It looks like a vitamin, but functions like something out of a science fiction movie.

Canada’s team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be prepared for the heat thanks partly because of a computerized pill that measures core body temperature.

Developed by French-based BodyCap, the technology allows athletes to monitor their body temperature during workouts or competitions.

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“We can take someone like Evan (Dunfee, a race walker), have him swallow the little pill, do a full four-hour workout, and then come back and download the whole thing, so we get from data core temperature every 30 seconds through that whole workout,” said Trent Stellingwerff, a sport scientist who works with Canada’s Olympic athletes.

“The two biggest factors of core temperature are obviously the outdoor humidex, heat and humidity, but also exercise intensity.”

Bluetooth technology allows Stellingwerff to gather immediate data with a handheld device — think a tricorder in “Star Trek.” The ingestible device also stores measurements for up to 16 hours when away from the monitor which can be wirelessly transmitted when back in range.

Dunfee, who was fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will be among a handful of Canadian athletes who will test out the technology at the NACAC track and field championships Aug. 10-12 in Toronto.

“That pill is going to change the way that we understand how the body responds to heat, because we just get so much information that wasn’t possible before,” Dunfee said. “Swallow a pill, after the race or after the training session, Trent will come up, and just hold the phone to your stomach and download all the information. It’s pretty crazy.”

Dunfee and Stellingwerff said the pill will enable them to learn what core temperature endurance athletes can race at before their bodies begin to shut down. They can then plan their race pace accordingly.

“It’s: ‘OK, we’ve done the heat profiling on you, so if it’s 40 Celsius and 90 per cent humidity in Tokyo, this is probably the pace you should think about for the first half of the race. If it’s 30 Celsius, OK, we can be a bit more aggressive and you can probably go at this kind of a pace,“’Stellingwerff said.

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“It’s a bit of science, it’s informed, but it’s still a bit of art.”

Potential soaring temperatures have been the talk of Olympic organizers in Tokyo, after a record heat wave last month in Japan was blamed for 116 deaths.

Other technology includes wearable sweat patches that measure sodium, glucose, and proteins in the sweat.

“So we can use all of that stuff to get a good idea of how we adapt to the heat,” Dunfee said.

Stellingwerff said preparing for the heat in Tokyo will be even more important for Paralympic athletes, as spinal cord injuries inhibit the ability to sweat.

“If you can’t sweat you can’t dissipate heat, if you can’t dissipate heat . . . there’s a potential to spiral out of control quite quickly,” Stellingwerff said.

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The best weapon for handling the heat is acclamation, said Stellingwerff, and so most Canadian athletes will fly to Japan a couple of weeks ahead of their event.

The Olympics are July 24-Aug. 9, while the Paralympics are Aug. 25-Sept. 6.

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