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Electronic pill that protects against heat exhaustion


The world Athletics Championships in Doha next month will be the first time that athletes are given an electronic pill, designed to combat heat exhaustion. The capsule tracks body temperate and was developed to combat fears over the effects of extreme heat in endurance events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Competitors will be given the option to participate in the experiment launching in Doha. The pill needs to be taken a few hours before their event. Sensory technology incorporated in the pill will track and relay information on biological markers during an event. The capsule weighs in at 1.7 and is no bigger than a standard medical pill. It has been designed to pass through the gastrointestinal tract unharmed, before being excreted from the body between 12-48 hours after being taken.

The pill will be tested at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, where temperatures could become dangerous. Credit: Reuters

The International Association of Athletics, the global ruling body for athletics, hopes that this new technology can be rolled out in time for the Olympics, where competitors risk being pulled out of an event if they are exposed to hyperthermia. Tokyo conditions typically see the temperature rising to 30C in September, and a lot has been done to try and protect athletes from the affect of heat exhaustion. For example, next year’s Olympic marathon has been moved back to 6am in an attempt to avoid the heat. Scientists from Arizona State University have already been commissioned to map out microclimates along the marathon course to identify hot spots where spectators may face discomfort or illness.

“Several national federations have trialled the pill already and the results have been good,” a source at the International Association of Athletics Federations has told Telegraph Sport. “It is perfectly safe. There is no drug inside the pill. It is just an electronic chip that will be activated during the race.”

The electronic pill is the creation of Yannis Pitsiladis, a professor of sports science at the University of Brighton, who works closely with the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee. Pitsiladis’s team will also monitor information from weather stations and satellites during the trial run in Doha, where temperatures typically reach 35C in September.

Callum Hawkins of Scotland collapses as he competes in the Men’s marathon on day 11 of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Getty

The risks facing endurance athletes were highlighted at last year’s Commonwealth Games, where British marathon-runner Callum Hawkins missed out on gold after collapsing two kilometres from the finish line in Gold Coast. “This will help us to protect athletes not only in the Games but also post-Games,” Pitsiladis says.

“Most international sporting federations currently use only an environmental index to determine the risk to the athletes’ health. We will be able to use the thermoregulatory response to protect the health of the athletes, as well as officials and even spectators.”


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