Athletes put on glitter for the Glamour Games

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The Independent Online

The low-profile sport of pole-vaulting has suddenly acquired a battalion of new fans, thanks to the soft-focus charms of the Olympic silver medallist, Tatiana Grigorieva, a Russian-born athlete with a talent for self-promotion and pin-up looks.

The low-profile sport of pole-vaulting has suddenly acquired a battalion of new fans, thanks to the soft-focus charms of the Olympic silver medallist, Tatiana Grigorieva, a Russian-born athlete with a talent for self-promotion and pin-up looks.

Grigorieva, 24, has been plastered all over the Australian newspapers since she catapulted herself to public notice with her medal-winning performance on Monday. The recently naturalised Australian citizen welcomes the attention hoping for lucrative modelling and sponsorship offers.

These are the Glamour Games, where sport comes first but image is never far behind. Swimmers such as the Dutch champion, Inge de Bruijn, haul themselves out of the pool with their waterproof make-up intact; the fastest women in the world are dashing around the athletics track wearing skimpy two-piece outfits laden with jewels.

The American hurdler, Gail Devers, sports a diamond pendant chain looped through the bottom of her shorts, as well as long, painted fingernails. Cathy Freeman, the Australian 400m champion, wears rings, bracelets, a necklace and diamond ear-rings. Marion Jones, the 100m gold medallist, glints as she runs.

"It's a glamour thing," said Jill Geer, director of communications for the US track and field team. "You're out there wearing your underwear, in front of 100,000 people, and you're putting on your make-up and doing your hair." The males are not far beind. Michael Johnson, the American 400m champion, ran in shoes threaded with droplets of 24-carat gold.

Ato Boldon, the Trinidadian runner, wears wraparound reflector shades. The Cuban hurdler, Anier Garcia, had women in the stadium swooning when he removed his top after winning the 110m on Monday. The obession with appearance is not new. At the Seoul Games in 1988, the late American, Florence Griffith-Joyner, caused a sensation on the track by wearing a succession of outrageous running outfits. But in Sydney, the stakes have been raised to fresh heights.

It is partly the fault of the hi-tech, figure-hugging fabrics. The male rowers competed in little one-pieces that were very practical but left nothing to the imagination. At the medal ceremony for the coxless fours last weekend, it was difficult to know where to look. And not everyone is happy with the emphasis on image.

Debbie Simms, who produced a report on the subject for the Australian Sports Commission, said: "There is a lot of pressure on women not only to perform, but to look the part according to perceptions of what is feminine and the ideal body shape." Leontien Zijlaard, the Dutch cyclist who won the women's road race, has blamed pressure to attain the perfect shape for her anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder.

Other athletes go further for public exposure. More than two dozen members of Australia's Olympic team, men and women, posed naked and semi-naked for a special issue of Black + White, a photographic magazine. Only Grigorieva agreed to a full-frontal shot.

The models included Kerri Pottharst, who won a gold medal in beach volleyball earlier this week. In her sport, sexiness is mandatory; female competitors have to play in brief bikinis and men must wear short shorts.

Stacy Dragila, the American pole vaulter who beat Grigorieva to the gold medal, said: "When I started, athletics meet directors didn't want us. They thought we were boring. Now that there's hot chicks out there clearing 15ft, they want us. I think it's great."

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