By GERALD IMRAY, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Two piece or not two piece: that is the question.
Chilly weather and evening matches at the London Olympics may force a cover up in beach volleyball — from bikinis to long johns.
"We need it to keep our muscles warm," Australian competitor Tamsin Hinchley said Sunday. "It's an extremely strenuous sport."
Yes, but let's get real. Long sleeves and leggings aren't exactly the main draw for lots of beach volleyball fans.
Asked if she thought it would be a turnoff for some fans, Hinchley said no, she thought the atmosphere would still be rocking at Horse Guards Parade.
"The regulations are that it's tight fitting, so if that's what you're there for, whatever."
Actually, they'll probably need it. Some beach volleyball matches are set to go late into the evening, when temperatures will drop.
And the gear has already been a common — even if not entirely popular — sight on the world beach volleyball tour this year. It's now part of the uniform, Hinchley said.
"Obviously we're that sport, we're the sport that wears the bikinis and we're the sport that's physically out there," she said. "But we're jumping and running and sliding on the sand. We'll be using it (cold weather gear) to benefit us physically. We'll definitely be taking it."
Hinchley will partner with 2000 gold medalist Natalie Cook at the Olympics, where beach volleyball will be played at the ceremonial parade ground in central London that is more used to formal military displays featuring soldiers in scarlet buttoned jackets and bearskin hats.
The famous Horse Guards Parade location, as well as the skimpy bikinis, shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, will likely make it one of the hottest tickets of the Olympics.
Organizers hope the weather will cooperate as they try to bring a slice of sunny Santa Monica or Sydney's Bondi Beach to what has been a rainy central London.
Down the road from Big Ben, across the river from London Eye and a stone's throw from the Prime Minister's Downing Street residence, toned and tanned men and women will be diving across the 5,000 tons of sand imported from a quarry just outside the city.
Beach volleyball became an Olympic medal event at the 1996 Atlanta Games and has grown rapidly since, peaking at the Beijing Games four years ago. And this year's Olympic competition at the temporary arena could even top that with 500,000 fans expected for about 100 matches.
"There are 15,000 seats and it is our biggest stadium ever," Cook said. "In Atlanta, we were out in the car parks."
Even Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has acknowledged the sport's fast-rising popularity, joking that organizers got his backing for London's initial Olympic bid by promising to put bikini-clad sportswomen outside what was then his window.
All that's needed now is some bikini weather.
Follow Gerald Imray at http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.