Team USA bares all to show power, beauty
Sylvia Fowles, Apolo Ohno and Alicia Sacramone have very different body types.
Fowles, an Olympic gold medalist basketball center, is 6’6” and weighs in at 200 pounds; Ohno, an eight-time Olympic medalist in short track speedskating, stands at 5’8” and 145 pounds with thighs many call tree trunks; Sacramone, an Olympic silver medalist gymnast and the current world vault champion, is 5’1” and weighs a mere 117 pounds. Each of their bodies fit their respective sports perfectly and, despite their differences, they all exude a sense of power.
Fowles, Ohno, Sacramone and several other members of Team USA recently celebrated the bodies of elite athletes by being featured in ESPN The Magazine’s third annual “The Body Issue,” which shows athletes artistically nude, although strategically covered.
Half of the athletes highlighted in this year’s “Bodies We Want” section are U.S. Olympians or Paralympians. They include Gretchen Bleiler (silver medalist in snowboarding), Jeremy Campbell (gold medalist Paralympian in discus and pentathlon), Julie Chu (three-time medalist in ice hockey), Fowles, Ryan Hall (marathon), Natasha Hastings (gold medalist in track), Ryan Kesler (silver medalist in ice hockey), Ohno, Sacramone, Hope Solo (gold medalist in soccer) and Louie Vito (snowboarding).
This was the third time Bleiler was asked to be in the issue. She turned the previous offers down because she had done nude shoots in the past, most notably for FHM, and did not want to go down that road again. Bleiler changed her mind this year because she is in a different place now.
“I’ve been working really hard to bring my snowboarding to a higher level and with that realize my body has to follow in order to handle that level,” Bleiler, who is currently training in New Zealand, wrote in an email. “So I’m eating differently and training differently. I’m taking my commitment to a place it’s never been to before on so many levels and this felt like a good way to celebrate that.”
Another reason Bleiler agreed to do the shoot is because of the purpose behind it; she said it was different from her FHM shoot because “The Body Issue” is about celebrating athletes and the hard work they put into their sport, which is part of the reason why Bleiler insisted on bringing her snowboard to the shoot.
“Right when I got it in my hand it felt natural and comfortable and ‘me,’” Bleiler said. “Another reason behind shooting the angles we did was to highlight my core because it’s one of the key elements in every spin and flip I initiate in the halfpipe.”
Natasha Hastings also hesitated when she was chosen for the issue, especially because she had never done any nude shoots before. Previously, her most revealing shoot had been in a sports bra and shorts.
“It’s funny because we run pretty much in a sports bra and shorts,” Hastings said.
Hastings decided to be part of the spread in hopes of sending a positive message to women.
“Some women shy away from being too toned so I think it’s a great way to show that we’re muscular and we’re toned but we’re still beautiful,” Hastings said. “So for me it was a celebration of the woman’s body and the athlete’s body.”
Hastings’ photos were shot in a private studio in Miami with only herself, the director and the photographer in the room, but that didn’t necessarily make it comfortable.
“I’d like to say it was natural but I don’t know how natural it is to just meet new people and drop your robe and be totally comfortable but they did their best to make it as comfortable as possible,” Hastings said.
Now that the magazine is out, Hastings has been receiving only positive feedback and has no regrets.
“While I was proud of what I did, the approval of everyone else and seeing how much everyone else appreciated it made me feel really good about it,” she said.
Julie Chu, who had previously worn a bare minimum of shorts and a T-shirt in photos, said her U.S. hockey teammates were shocked by the photos.
“I’m comfortable in my own skin but at the same time I don’t flaunt it,” Chu said.
Chu’s photos were shot in New York City in August and since she had been training and competing with the national team all summer she was already in shape and there was no preparation needed for the photo shoot. Instead the most nerve-wracking part for her was telling her parents about it.
“I think all parents are conservative when it comes to seeing their daughter or son in the nude,” Chu said. “When the photo came out my mom texted me and said the first thing she thought when the photos came out was powerful and that’s exactly what I wanted to come across.’
The photo of Chu that was used in the magazine has less to do with her sport and more to do with generally being in motion, an attribute she expressed was difficult to portray in a nude shoot.
“It’s a little more difficult with women because you have to cover two spots so there’s definitely some tweaking with where the arms and legs should be,” Chu said.
Paralympian Jeremy Campbell’s photo captures the action of discus throwing as well as his prosthetic leg. Campbell is the second U.S. Paralympian to be part of “The Body Issue.” The first was triathlete Sarah Reinertsen in 2009.
“I was really honored to be asked to be a part of the magazine,” Campbell said. “It was just really cool to take this chance to show the Paralympic movement and show my athleticism through that picture, and see my leg.”
Like several of the other athletes being nude was completely foreign, and not very natural, for Campbell.
“It was uncomfortable for me to take off all my clothes and have a makeup artist put oil on me and be standing there naked with strangers I’ve never met before looking at me, touching me, putting on hair stuff and then jump in front of the camera,” Campbell said.
Campbell is perhaps the hairiest of the 22 featured athletes, something he was embarrassed by initially but is proud of at the end of the day.
“They’re trying to capture the human body and the way it is so I didn’t care too much to shave. I’m a man and they’re supposed to be hairy!”
You can see all of the athletes in The Body Issue here.