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Athletes Cash In on Sex Appeal to Sell Sports

The Olympics are sexy. Some athletes, like Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva flirt with the crowd, while others, like US swimmer Amanda Beard, take all their clothes off. Sex sells, but can it boost a sports career?

Germany's Laura Ludwig dives for a ball while playing against China in the beach volleyball competition at the Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground at the Beijing 2008 Olympics

Official dress code: Bikini

Germany's Playboy Magazine has four Olympic athletes revealing all in its current edition -- canoeist Nicole Reinhardt, hockey player Katharina Scholz, sailor Petra Niemann and judoka Romy Tarangul. Beijing fencing gold medalist Britta Heidemann posed for the same magazine four years ago.

German hockey team with Janne Mueller-Wieland, Katharina Scholz and Maike Stoeckel celebrate their 5-1 victory after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games women's field hockey Group B preliminary match Germany against Great Britain

"Hockey is sexy," Scholz said and many agree

"For me it was a good opportunity and maybe when I look back after a few years I will be proud of it," 25-year-old Scholz said of the nude photo shoot. "Not everybody can go on the cover of Playboy; I did it because I am confident of my body and myself."

Beard, meanwhile, who posed for Playboy last year, shed her clothes to support People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' ad campaign calling on consumers to forego fur.

Whether or not they bare all, however, many of the 10,500 young athletes in Beijing's Olympic Village are conscious of their sex appeal. For some, a sexy image can promote their sport.

As if bikini-clad players weren't enough, scantily dressed dancers perform during the breaks at beach volleyball matches in Chaoyang Park. There is even a rule in indoor volleyball on what women have to wear on the court to spice up their appearance.

Sex appeal can't buy fans

But showing skin isn't always beneficial to sports, according to American professor Mary Jo Kane, who conducts research on girls and women in sports.

"The question is: Does sex sell?" she told the German dpa news agency. "It sells magazines and products. Does it translate into greater interest and respect in women's sports? The answer is, unequivocally, it does not.

"The assumption is that sex sells. 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 and sexy they are."

Some sexier than others

Competitors in the more popular sports have a natural advantage, when it comes to wooing fans.

Track and field, for instance, is erotic per se, with athletes contorting their bodies into graceful arcs on the Beijing track 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, both former US Olympic runners.

Pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva makes an attempt in the women's pole vault final during the athletics competitions in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics

Pole vaulter Isinbayeva makes the most of her sex appeal

But it is Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who has taken the art of flirting, and the sport of pole vaulting, to unsurpassable heights. The 26-year-old Russian loves to flirt with the crowd. She blows kisses, smiles, and does summersaults after world records.

She hasn't appeared 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."

At least there's money in it

There is also Leryn Franco, a model and javelin thrower from Paraguay, who crashed out on Tuesday in qualifying. For her, being sexy isn't about winning fans, it's just a means to an end.

"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."

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