ESPN Body Issue 2014: Highlighting Featured Athletes' Top Comments

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 8, 2014

ESPN Body Issue 2014: Highlighting Featured Athletes' Top Comments

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    When it comes to athletes, their bodies are their greatest assets. Those assets are on full display once again this year as ESPN The Magazine celebrates athletes in their purest form via The Body Issue.

    While the 2014 edition doesn't hit newsstands until July 11, ESPN and USA Today have offered advanced glimpses at the likes of Venus Williams, Michael Phelps and many more baring it all.

    Athletes come in all shapes, sizes, ages and races, which is something that ESPN does an excellent job of showcasing. There is no one body type that ensures excellence across all competitions, but every athlete featured in The Body Issue is perfectly engineered to succeed at their trade.

    With the highly anticipated release of The Body Issue quickly approaching, here is a sneak peak at the featured athletes and how they'll be presented on the pages of ESPN The Magazine.

Venus Williams

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    Sang Tan/Associated Press

    As a seven-time Grand Slam champion in singles, Venus Williams is one of the most accomplished female tennis players of all time. Her career may be winding down at 34 years of age, but the five-time Wimbledon titlist is still in elite shape.

    An autoimmune disease known as Sjogren's syndrome has made the grind of the tennis season much more difficult for Venus, but she has persevered and found a way to cope with it.

    Williams' incredible physical condition is a big reason why. Despite possessing the body of a goddess, Venus had some reservations when she came to the realization that she would be completely naked for the Body Issue shoot, according to Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine.

    "It didn't dawn on me until right when I walked on set that I would have to be without clothes," Williams said. "If I would have thought about it before, there may have been a little less of a chance."

    Venus ultimately went through with the commitment, though, and sports fans couldn't be happier about it.

    ESPN The Magazine provided an image of Williams from the official spread.

Michael Phelps

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    As the greatest swimmer and perhaps even the greatest athlete of all time, Michael Phelps' body has long been discussed and analyzed.

    His long limbs and streamline physique have helped him capture an incredible 22 Olympic medals and there may be more on the way. Phelps announced his retirement following the 2012 Summer Games in London, but he recently returned to the pool in preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

    Phelps is back in peak physical condition, but the time off initially tarnished Phelps' picture perfect physique, according to Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine.

    "I got fat and out of shape," Phelps said. "It was hard because I had always eaten whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I would always be like, 'All right, I'll go work out,' and I would never ever go. Sure enough, 25 pounds later, I was still saying the same thing. That was just part of my learning process."

    Phelps still has work to do when it comes to reaching elite form for the 2016 Olympics, but it is clear from The Body Issue that he is back in business.

    Phelps shared a photo from the official spread on Twitter.

Jamie Anderson

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    Sergei Grits/Associated Press

    Jamie Anderson was a breakout star at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia as the 23-year-old native of Lake Tahoe, California earned gold in slopestyle snowboarding.

    Her good looks and laid-back personality made her an instant media darling, and that fact figures to be furthered when The Body Issue is officially released.

    Even athletes are self-conscious about their bodies at times, but Anderson's participation in The Body Issue helped her get over those feelings, according to Chris Strauss of USA Today.

    I've never done any naked shoots or even bikini shoots so it was new for me to do that. At first I was a little bit terrified but it was really good practice for me to accept everything about myself and love my body and not judge the little things that we do as women or anyone and just embrace where I'm at.

    Perhaps Anderson's willingness to face her fears will serve as inspiration for those lacking in self-confidence. Anderson threw caution to the wind and looked good doing it.

    USA Today shared an image of Anderson on the cover of the official magazine.

Bernard Hopkins

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    Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

    To call Bernard Hopkins a physical marvel would be a gross understatement. "The Executioner" would have been heralded as an all-time boxing great had he retired a decade ago, but he is still going strong at 49 years of age.

    Hopkins is the oldest titleholder in boxing history as he currently possesses the IBF, WBA (Super) and IBA Light Heavyweight championships. The fact that Hopkins is able to beat fighters who are half his age is a testament to the work he has put in over the years.

    According to Chris Strauss of USA Today, Hopkins is hopeful middle-aged people will see him in The Body Issue and draw inspiration.

    I look at myself and see my own agenda and I'm 49 and a half years old and 50 is great number for people to understand the transition and turning 50. It's a milestone and to me is halftime of a lifetime. You're in the halftime. It's really a testimony to what I've been preaching or speaking about for the majority of my career. I've been asked to display an art, my body, my temple, to the world. Hopefully it motivates someone to say 'He's 49 and a half looking like that, I'm going to do something different in my lifestyle.'

    Hopkins may be 49, but his Body Issue shoot features a man who appears to be very much in his prime.

    USA Today shared an image of Hopkins from the official magazine.

Amy Purdy

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    Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

    All of the athletes featured in The Body Issue are special for one reason or another, but Paralympian Amy Purdy is as inspirational as they come.

    Purdy had both legs amputated at the age of 19 due to complications from bacterial meningitis, but that didn't stop her from becoming a world-class athlete. Now 34, Purdy is coming off a bronze medal-winning performance in snowboard cross at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

    Although Purdy was dealt a bad hand in life, she has managed to make the most of it and overcome everything that has been thrown at her. Among those who are impressed by Purdy's triumphs and decision to pose in The Body Issue is Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, who tweeted prior to meeting with Purdy.

    "Athleticism on full display. Body issue is back and we celebrate with   on who made this year's cut."

    In some ways, Purdy has a body unlike any other athlete featured in the magazine. Despite having two prosthetic legs, though, she is in as good or even better shape than any of her counterparts. She proved capable of overcoming her physical disabilities by winning a Paralympic medal and finishing second on season 18 of Dancing With the Stars as well. Her appearance in The Body Issue is a celebration of everything she has accomplished and will accomplish in the future.

    ESPN The Magazine shared an image of Purdy from the official spread on Instagram.

Tomas Berdych

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    Ben Curtis/Associated Press

    Tennis star Tomas Berdych often gets lost in the shuffle in an era that features transcendent players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. The talented Czech has finally stepped out of their shadows, though, by showing off his amazing physique in The Body Issue.

    Berdych is often a forgotten man as the No. 5-ranked player in the world, but there is no denying his ability. He has reached at least the semifinals at all four Grand Slam events and was a Wimbledon finalist back in 2010.

    Berdych somehow manages to get better with age, and the 28-year-old star believes much of that has to do with his durability, per Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine.

    I don't really feel that I'm getting older. Since I started playing, I haven't had any major injuries in my career, even as I'm in my 13th season on the tour. In team sports when you are injured, others can contribute more and everything is fine. In tennis, if you are injured, nobody is going to give you anything for free. So it's important to stay healthy.

    Although Berdych has a lot of work to do before he can usurp the "Big Four," there is no question that he has the physical capabilities to do so.

    ESPN The Magazine shared an image of Berdych from the official spread.

Omar Gonzalez

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The United States Men's National Team was eliminated by Belgium in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, but the Yanks' play captivated the entire nation. Among those who helped the Americans advance out of the "group of death" was center-back Omar Gonzalez.

    The 25-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy star is part of a young core that figures to keep the United States competitive for many years to come. Few players are as big and strong as the 6'5" defender, which gives him a physical advantage over almost everyone he faces.

    While Gonzalez is certainly in elite shape, he doesn't aspire to be musclebound. According to Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine, Gonzalez has to find a unique balance between strength and athleticism.

    "If I get too muscular, I won't be able to move as well," Gonzalez said. "I like being a little smaller up top and a bit more agile for my height. I have to be able to change direction a lot. Maybe I'll bulk up when I'm done with soccer, but I'll probably just end up getting fatter and enjoying my downtime."

    Gonzalez has seemingly hit the right notes to this point in his career and it seems likely that the best is yet to come for Gonzalez and United States soccer as a whole.

    Gonzalez shared an image of himself from the official magazine on Twitter.

Marshawn Lynch

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is perhaps known for going into "Beast Mode," which is a level of play that makes him almost impossible to stop. As seen in The Body Issue, Lynch's build is the driving force behind his beastly performances.

    Lynch is a four-time Pro Bowler and he is coming off a season that saw him lead the Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl win in team history. The Seahawks are best known for their devastating defense, but Lynch's tough running style makes him the perfect offensive complement.

    Running backs need to be compact and powerful to succeed in the NFL and Lynch most definitely fits that criteria. According to Morty Ain of ESPN The Magazine, Lynch embraces the body that has made him a huge success in the sport of football.

    "Even though I get butt-a-- naked, I'm still gonna let my body do the talking for me," Lynch said. "I'm cool with my body, I love my body. I wouldn't trade it for no other body."

    NFL defenders don't share that same love and admiration for Lynch's body, but that is probably just the way the dreadlocked dynamo likes it.

    ESPN on NFL shared an image of Lynch from the official magazine.