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Does sex sell at the Olympics?

Published on 21/08/2008

21 August 2008

BEIJING -– It seems, these days, the Olympics are sexy.

Take pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia: She has taken the art of flirting with the crowd to new heights. Others like American swimmer Amanda Beard have simply taken their clothes off.

Germany’s Playboy Magazine has four Olympic athletes baring all in its current edition — canoeist Nicole Reinhardt, hockey player Katharina Scholz, sailor Petra Niemann and judoka Romy Tarangul.

And Beijing fencing gold medal winner Britta Heidemann posed for the same magazine four years ago.

"Hockey is sexy," said Scholz.

Promoting sports
The vast majority of the 10,500 young athletes in Beijing are very body-conscious. Sexy photos can promote their sport — witness the bikini-clad beach volleyball girls.

There is even a rule in indoor volleyball on what women have to wear on court to look sexy.

However, is taking off your clothes really beneficial?

"The question is, does sex sell?" American professor Mary Jo Kane, who researches women in sport, observed recently. "It sells magazines and products. Does it translate into greater interest and respect in women’s sports? And the answer is, unequivocally, it does not.

"The assumption is that sex sells," she added. "The assumption is, for women’s sports to survive, you have to attract the real fans, which are male fans. And you have to attract them with how pretty they are and how sexy they are."

At a disadvantage
Some sports are better off because they are popular, although swimmers have a disadvantage because they compete in water.

Athletics, for instance, is cool and erotic per se, with athletes showing off their bodies and skills on the Beijing track and field to rock music from Pearl Jam or Green Day blaring over the sound system.

Many remember the long fingernails of the late Florence Griffith Joyner or Gail Devers.

But it is Isinbayeva, who has taken the art of flirting, and the sport of pole vaulting, to unsurpassable heights.

The 26-year-old Russian loves to tease the crowd. She blows kisses, smiles, summersaults after world records and just loves all the attention without being arrogant.

But she has not appeared naked on the cover of Playboy. Instead, it was Cosmopolitan.

"I love to be alone at the top," she said after her world record vault of 5.05 meters on Monday night. "It’s so cool and I will try to keep my position as long as possible."

And take Leryn Franco, a model and javelin thrower from Paraguay, who crashed out on Tuesday in qualifying.

"I have done campaigns for many companies," she said. "Being a model is a good way to earn money, which I need to concentrate on my sport which is my real passion."

However, while Franco needs the modeling money to pursue her javelin career, Isinbayeva earns her money from vaulting — and flirting.

For marketing people, the Russian is the ideal athlete — sexy and successful.

— John Bagratuni/Expatica