Olympic ode to bodies beautiful


Aug. 23, 2004. 08:56 AM

Ready to fly Li Ya of China performs on the balance beam during training session yesterday for the artistic gymnastic event at the Athens Olympics. Rosie DiManno looks at the U.S. team.
Canada's greatest hope, hurdler Perdita Felicien, has a simple plan for Athens - go get the gold.

Sprinters have the best butts.


World class ass, definitely.


Rowers the best shoulders, divers the best backs, cyclists the best thighs, swimmers the most attractive over-all physique and beach volleyballers, well, they max out as juiciest eye candy.


That's not me talking. It's the athletes themselves, their opinions randomly solicited by the Star over the past week in Athens.


The Olympics are an ode to bodies beautiful. And Athens offers a bewildering anatomical parade, from the natural freaks of nature to the buffed disciples of applied torso sculpting.


It's a wonderland of physical perfection, humbling to the sagging and cellulite-dimpled among us, who can but ogle and drool.


Twenty-eight sports, each with its concentrated muscle targets and many with their distinctive competitor shape. Skyscraper basketball players like Yao Ming, can't miss him; ridiculously tiny gymnasts is there such as thing as anti-growth hormone? like Greece's Stephanie Bisbikou, 77 pounds on a full stomach; stumpy wrestlers built low to the ground, hulking weightlifters, stringy long-distance runners, gangly-legged high jumpers, chubby-chaser favourite female shot-putters, and some like the equestrians who don't look much like elite athletes at all, but then the horses do all the work, no?


(One rider cleverly put her mount in a tanning salon for a couple of weeks before the Games, so the horse could acclimatize to the heat of Athens. And it's got no unsightly bikini/saddle lines.)


Cyclists are identifiable by their disproportionate muscle distribution, skinny up top and massive down below. Also, they shave their thighs, unlike swimmers who shave their chests. Turn the bikers upside-down and they look like kayakers, with their spindly legs and massive backs.


Over at the residential village, athletes like to play a game called Name That Sport.


"We make little bets, then go over and ask," said badminton player Charmaine Reid, of Niagara Falls (who once played a match with Paul Newman, by the way, still a hottie in his 70s). "With some athletes, it's really easy to tell. With others, it's anybody's guess."


As is gender, sometimes.


In the past, before the International Olympic Committee got wise and dope-testing strict with competitors, the sexes became alarmingly blurred, most notably in Iron Curtain countries where mad scientists made neither fish-not-fowl monstrosities out of their female swimmers and throwing specialists.


Some went on to formally and surgically alter their gender, already halfway testosterone home to becoming men anyway, with their hirsute bodies and their deep voices and their vanishing breasts. It is, alas, still mostly a mystery, who's on the 'roids here and the growth hormones and the transfusion blood boosters.


"I saw a group of girls the other day and they were all hairy, they practically had beards," said Canadian boxer Andrew Kooner. "They were weightlifters, I think. But at first, when I saw them coming, I thought they were men. Pretty ugly."


Blurring the lines even further, the IOC has permitted transsexuals to participate for the first time in Athens, despite the fact that men (or those born with a penis) have higher levels of testosterone and greater muscle-to-fat ratio, and heart and lung capacity.


Nevertheless, transsexuals are now welcome at the Olympics, provided they have medical certificates of sex-change surgery, have gone through a minimum two-year period of post-operative hormone therapy and are legally recognized as their gender of surgical choice in their own countries.


Gender screening was dropped in Sydney. Up till then, the IOC had conducted chromosome testing with the occasional fraud sent packing but there was at least one exception to the verification process. At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, Princess Anne, then competing as an equestrienne for Great Britain, was the only athlete given a gender-test bye. The Lords of the Rings do love royals and wouldn't dream of doubting their chromosomes.


But we digress.


The matter of body shape preference depends entirely on personal taste. But track athletes are generally acknowledged as having incomparable drop-dead silhouettes everything tight and pneumatic. "The men are really strong and the most toned," observed Calgary gymnast Kylie Stone.


Female sprinters can stake claim to the sauciest booty top-shelf firm. If pop diva Beyonce were an athlete, she'd probably be a sprinter or a hurdler or maybe even an 800-metre specialist, like the divine Maria Mutola. Certainly she's got the caboose for it.


Some athletes have bloated Incredible Hulk dimensions that suggest they've been dining out on steroids, such as the slew of weightlifters that just got turfed for positive drug results.


Others look like they haven't had a decent meal in ages. Russian prima donna gymnast Svetlana Khorkina is drop-dead gorgeous but, at 5-foot-5 towering, for this sport of midgets a stick insect.


And at the trampoline competition the other day, Canadian sixth-place finisher Heather Ross-McManus even suggested an explanation for why defending gold medallist Irina Karavaeva might have crapped out in the qualifying round. "I think she's too thin. She doesn't have the energy to make it through the whole competition. You see her trying to conserve her energy during warm-ups."


Have a sandwich, Irina.


Canadian pitcher Paul Spoljaric, hardly alone in this regard, cast his babe-vote for the beach volleyballers. He also noted that baseball players are demonstrably the least athletic looking group in the village. Which brings to mind the famous observation once made by fitness-challenged Lenny Dykstra: "I'm not an athlete. I'm a ballplayer.''


Not surprisingly, our straw poll found that most athletes gave honour of bodies-bodacious to their own sport.


"Best bodies? Come on, how can you even ask? Gymnasts, definitely," said Calgary's Grant Golding a gymnast, natch talking about male athletes.


"As for women, I really haven't had a chance to take a good look at the beach volleyballers yet. But there's a lot of beautiful women in synchro. Actually, there's just a lot of beautiful women out there, everywhere."


A dissenting voice from the pool, freestyle swimmer Mark Johnston of Vancouver: "Swimmers have the best bodies because they're the most proportional."


Water polo player Marie-Luc Arpin cast her vote for her sport: "Have you seen our guys? I'd say they're pretty good-looking. And tall. The taller the better.''


Boxer Adam Trupish of Windsor gives his lingering head-to-toe nod to the beach volleyballers. "Tall, sexy females in little bathing suits. Wow."


Given all that pulchritude, all that testosterone, all those gob-smacking physical specimens and the raging hormones, it's little wonder that there's a heap o' shagging going on at the village, bacchanalia central. Or so one might reasonably deduce, what with the hundreds of thousands of condoms offered."I was talking to my wife on the phone the other night and she asked me about that," said Trupish. "I guess they're just promoting safe sex."


Not all avail themselves, of either condoms or sex, Trupish pointedly noted. "I've seen the bowls but I just always walk on by."


For the record, in Sydney four years ago, it was reportedly the Cuban delegation that used up its love-glove allocation first.


In the Olympics, everything's a competition.


Citius, altius, fortius. And most randy.

Additional articles by Rosie DiManno