Chinese flee rain but London weather improving

LONDON Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:48pm BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Athletes flooding into Britain for the London Olympics may not now need reinforced umbrellas with drier weather predicted in the build-up to the Games although Factor 50 sun cream is unlikely to be required.

After being swamped by unusually wet weather for months, the clouds were higher and whiter and there were even patches of blue as athletes checked in to the Olympic Village on Tuesday.

While the Met Office confirmed that there were some encouraging signs, the improvement came too late to convince some of China's top athletes to arrive early.

Top hurdler Liu Xiang, according to his coach, had headed to Germany to tune up rather than risk tweaking muscles in the build up to his quest for gold in the 110 hurdles.

He pulled out of the hurdles final at London's Diamond League meeting at Crystal Palace last Saturday after complaining of muscle aches, before leaving the capital.

"Other Chinese teams have also chosen to move their base thanks to London's cold weather, so Liu Xiang is not the only one," coach Sun Haiping was quoted in the China Daily website.

Britain is on course for the worst summer in living memory, with warm, sunny days able to be counted on the fingers of one hand so far.

Physiologist Steve Ingham of the English Institute said for the short, powerful, explosive events such as track sprints, the muscles need to be warm because their contraction is then more efficient.

"They would not necessarily be dramatically slow but they would not be optimally fast," if the weather was cold or wet, he said.

In contrast, the cold should help marathon runners because they will not accumulate heat at such a great rate.

Bookmakers William Hill are factoring in the weather in the odds it is offering, saying it expects fewer records to be broken in London because of the miserable weather.

It has also slashed the odds on the likelihood of rain falling during the opening ceremony on July 27 from 4-1 to even money after a weather forecaster placed a 250 pound ($390)bet.

However, there may be some good news for organisers fearing soggy sandpits in the Olympic Stadium, muddy equestrian courses and howling gales at the sailing regatta.

"There are signs that by the end of this week we should have normal summer weather," Met Office forecaster Helen Chivers, told Reuters.

"Certainly we are not expecting a heat wave, but the shift in the weather pattern means there will be more of the traditional north west, south east divide.

"The south of Britain should have higher pressure and lighter winds by the end of the week and that could be the case for next week too, although it's too early to predict exactly what we can expect on the first weekend of the Games."

"I've heard reports of hot sunshine, but I think that's maybe a bit over-enthusiastic. We should have longer dry spells and more normal temperatures though."

($1 = 0.6403 British pounds)

(Additional reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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