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Olympians and Fans Will Feel the Heat in "Hotlanta"

Washington, July 15 (RFE/RL) - If the tens of thousands of fans expected to come to the southern U.S. city of Atlanta for the summer Olympic Games aren't ready for the heat, the city will be ready to help them survive it.

The summertime heat in the southern United States is legendary. From June to September, the average daily temperature in Atlanta is "only" 26 degrees centigrade.

But from July 19 to August 4--when the Olympic competition takes place--the average is 30 degrees. Temperature ranges between 32 and 38 degrees are not uncommon. It1s no wonder Atlanta residents call their city "Hotlanta."

But, as the old American saying goes, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. The level of moisture in the air during an Atlanta summer is generally 80 percent and sometimes higher.

Climatic conditions are oppressive. While the human body can attempt to cool itself through perspiration, the combination of heat and humidity makes the perspiration mechanism less effective.

Olympic organizers are concerned about how the heat will affect athletes from the more temperate regions of northern Europe, but they are more worried about the spectators. The athletes will be in peak physical condition, and hundreds of them are or will be training at colleges and universities and other sports centers in southern states.

"The biggest way you beat the heat is to be highly conditioned to the environment, and fans are not conditioned to this," Jay Shoop, head of sports science at Georgia Tech University and chief trainer for sports medicine within the Olympic Village, said in a recent interview.

"So many fans are not acclimatized, which means the body has not gotten used to the weather situation," he said. "Many fans will be older and unconditioned, staying up late, partying, going out into the heat, and walking long distances."

Many events, such as the gymnastics and swimming competitions and basketball games, will occur in air-conditioned, indoor venues. However, spectators will still have to go outside to reach different stadiums. The effect of leaving climate-controlled surroundings for stifling heat could be dangerous, especially for older people or those with health problems.

"If you're not accustomed to being outdoors for three hours at a stretch and walking you're going to experience some kind of problem," said Laurie Olsen, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

Advice on how to deal with the heat is being mailed to each ticket buyer, she said. The information stresses the importance of wearing loose-fitting cotton and wide brimmed hats and reminds visitors to drink plenty of water.

The city has prepared shaded areas and water sprays for relief at outdoor sites. Spectators may bring their own water bottles or purchase bottled water. Vendors will sell hand-held spray misters, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and fans. Air-conditioned tents with television sets also will be available at several outdoor competition sites.

Each site will have a heat coordinator and medical volunteers, said Olsen. They will look for people who may appear ill or in obvious need of relief.

The city government will set up tents at high-traffic sites to provide water, shade and helpful tips to travelers.

Atlanta's Olympic Committee also will have toilet facilities and drinking water at depots throughout the metropolitan area, where fans can pick up trains or shuttles to the Games.