Olympic hot bods

Armchair voyeurs are gawking at male hotties with bodies at the peak of perfection in the Games

NEW YORK • Call them the Magic Mike Olympics.

The Olympic Games have always meant different things to different people, whether they are fans of popular sports, passionate adherents of niche activities such as air rifle shooting or the hammer throw, or those who enjoy tracking any athletic endeavour at the championship level.

Another cohort following the Olympics, though, does so without much knowledge or even interest in the rules and arcana.

They are the armchair voyeurs, excited by the sight of bodies at the peak of perfection. That those bodies are often clad in uniforms leaving little to the imagination is part of the appeal.

It is hard to imagine in earlier and more puritanical times a feature such as "36 Of The Greatest Summer Olympic Bulges" appearing in a mainstream American magazine, even one as prurient as Cosmopolitan. Yet, fashions shift in all things. And a Cosmo slideshow that captures and rates the genital endowments of various male athletes almost immediately went viral across social media.

Bulges are an inevitable a part of the Summer Games. There is a decided change, however, in the way performance fabrics have increased the visibility of virtually any body part they purport to cover and equally in the frankness of a contemporary viewer's gaze.

Tonga's flag bearer Pita Taufatofua (left) leading his contingent during the athletes' parade at the Olympics.
Tonga's flag bearer Pita Taufatofua leading his contingent during the athletes' parade at the Olympics. PHOTO: REUTERS

Even before Sam Mikulak of the United States men's gymnastics team remarked to The Wall Street Journal that his teammates might garner something like the attention paid their more obviously mediagenic female colleagues if they performed shirtless, Mikulak and his teammate Jake Dalton were regularly posting Instagram shots of their ripped torsos during training.

"People make fun of us for wearing tights," Mikulak told The Journal. "But if they saw how yoked we are maybe that would make a difference." Consider "yoked" (Urban Dictionary: "well muscled, powerfully built"), a keyword for an Olympics whose stark objectification of the male body is in line with the runaway success of feminist stealth blogs such as Hot Dudes Reading and, for that matter, with the billions of images proliferating across social media of hot dudes doing practically anything.

Women and gay men are assumed to be the audience for these displays. The truth is, everybody is looking. You can judge that by how quickly the image of shirtless, oil-slicked Pita Taufatofua - the Tongan taekwondo champion with the body of a bendable action figure - as the flag bearer for his country's Olympics delegation not only stole the show at last Friday evening's Parade of Nations, but also soon enough thereafter stoked the Internet.

Much of the commentary after Taufatofua's later appearance on Today wearing traditional Tongan garb focused on the giddiness of the show's female hosts - Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales and Jenna Bush Hager - as they lasciviously stroked the shiny torso of an athlete who looked ready to be deep-fried.

Role reversal has been an unacknowledged dimension of the Summer Games. Now it is the men's turn to be objectified as hotties.

Yet there was Matt Lauer, stepping forward gingerly to run a finger over the athlete's biceps. (Al Roker, who had eagerly supplied the sunscreen with which his female co-hosts rubbed Taufatofua, stood flummoxed on the sidelines.)

Role reversal has been an unacknowledged dimension of the Summer Games.

Now it is the men's turn to be objectified as hotties: divers such as David Boudia, a gold medallist in 2012, or Briton Tom Daley - each clad in suits so brief that they make the modest swimwear of the 1960s look like girdles - or Michael Phelps, whose anatomical particulars are not only a subject of ceaseless Internet exegesis, but are also burnt into many viewers' brains.

A century ago, male swimmers wore singlets to compete in the Olympics. Male runners wore voluminous shorts.

These days, even the male equestrians - surely the most fully attired of all Olympians - favour skintight breeches over the flapping jodhpurs of yesteryear.

Full body depilation for all guys - not merely the swimmers who shave to eliminate drag in the water - is so widely accepted a cultural practice that an Access Hollywood reporter in Rio submitted to Brazilian waxing on the air.

Women are not the only ones expected anymore to present themselves with what satirist Charles Ludlam once termed "all the nudity of a statue".

Such is the modish feminisation of even the world's top male athletes that the most startling sight at the XXXI Olympiad may be a guy with hairy pits.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Olympic hot bods'. Print Edition | Subscribe