Suggesting scenes of mud-caked Olympians ahead, torrential downpours already have wreaked havoc at recent British sporting events. Massive disruptions turned at least 10,000 spectators away from the Formula One race at Silverstone last week.
In June, areas across the nation experienced double the average rainfall, and July has brought flash floods that continue to turn roads into rivers and inundate homes and businesses in parts of the country. Extended forecasts suggest that while the bouts of heavy rain may abate, London weather could still be wetter than the already-moist average for much of the 2012 Games — testing years-in-the-making transit planning and potentially affecting the medal count.
Athletes, experts say, are competing at levels so high that every advantage counts, with inclement weather sometimes throwing even top competitors off their game. For example, Jesse Williams, the 2011 world champion in the high jump, struggled in the rain during Olympic qualifying and barely made the U.S. team. With a history of not performing his best in precipitation, Williams has shifted most of his training from Manhattan, Kan., where temperatures have topped 100 degrees, to Eugene, Ore., where the damp, temperate climate more closely mimics the conditions in London.
“He’s been challenged by inclement weather before, but he’s recognized what he’s likely to encounter in London, and he’s decided to train more in Oregon,” said Kansas State’s Cliff Rovelto, who coaches all three U.S. high jumpers. “It’s just one factor, one that’s been at the back of his mind.”
Others, meanwhile, are praying for rain. American Khadevis Robinson, competing in the 800 meters, said the wet weather has in the past proved to be a problem for Kenyan David Rudisha, the favorite.
“You know, he’s only lost twice in the last couple of years, both times in rain, which, by his own admission, is something he says is challenging for him,” Robinson said. “As an athlete, you use this to tell yourself, ‘Okay, maybe this gives me an opening, maybe this gives me a chance.’ Because it’s London, and you know it’s going to rain.”
London Olympics planners, acutely aware of the weather challenges, have gone to great lengths to minimize potential disruptions. They’ve planted special grass and built a filtration system into the equestrian courses, a move that could prevent a repeat of two recent events in the English countryside that were canceled because of heavy rains. Officials ordered a tailor-made cover for the BMX track in East London to ensure it keeps dry. Five sailing routes have been identified to cope with possible weather issues. Olympic Park will have five full-time meteorologists, with staffing 24 hours a day. And additional days of competition are being built into several sports — such as rowing and tennis — that could be affected by weather.