Poetry in motion

STEPHEN RIPLEY

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Hands up ... how many people reading this column have ever heard of Ashley Harkleroad?

Since I don't see any hands in the air, I'll fill you in. Ashley Harkleroad is the 72nd-ranked player on the WTA tour. She has never advanced beyond the third round of any Grand Slam singles event and has exactly zero career titles to her credit. She's also young, blond and moderately hot.

Thanks mainly to those last three attributes, Harkleroad will grace the cover of August's Playboy magazine. By baring it all for Hugh Hefner's lens, she'll be joining Katarina Witt, Amanda Beard and Gabrielle Reece among the ranks of athletes-turned-exhibitionists.

Of course, women needn't disrobe to have men drooling over them. As fans of the 11 athletes on this list can attest, often it's best to leave something to the imagination.

10. Natalie Gulbis

With her miniskirts, blond hair and revealing magazine spreads, golfer Natalie Gulbis has drawn comparisons to ex-tennis bombshell Anna Kournikova. But while Anna may have the edge in overall hotness, the 23-year-old LPGA star is the more accomplished athlete, having actually won an event on her tour.

9. Gina Carano

Gina Carano's time on this list might be short-lived, since she makes her living by being punched, kicked and elbowed in the face, among other parts of her body. The 26-year-old Muay Thai specialist has compiled a 6-0 record in mixed martial arts but may be better known as Crush on American Gladiators (insert dirty pun here).

8. Sasha Cohen

A three-time silver medallist -- once at the Olympics and twice at worlds -- ice queen Sasha Cohen stands on top of the podium when it comes to her looks. Pretty impressive for a sport in which physical attractiveness seems to be a prerequisite.

7. Julia Mancuso

Rail-thin waifs don't make very good alpine skiers, which is why downhillers like Julia Mancuso are among the most curvaceous athletes on the planet. The 24-year-old Olympic champion has no problem trading on her looks either, having recently stripped down to her skivvies to promote a sponsor.

6. Lokelani McMichael

When she was 18, McMichael became the youngest woman to finish the Ironman triathlon in her native Hawaii and now routinely finishes in the top 10. For those keeping score, that's 4.2 km of swimming, 180 km of biking and 42 km of running. Let's see Kate Moss try that.

5. Kristi Leskinen

Although she's been on the podium at the X Games and finished second in the world championships, this 27-year-old freestyle skier is perhaps best known for her steamy photo spread in FHM magazine a few years back.

4. Allison Stokke

University of California pole vaulter Allison Stokke became a reluctant celebrity last year when photos of her competing were posted on the Internet. Much to her chagrin, the photos -- and the corresponding comments about her jaw-dropping looks -- spread like wildfire. The controversy even spread to Wikipedia, where users eventually voted to delete Stokke's page.

3. Niki Gudex

She was born in England, raised in Australia and competes around the world as a professional cross-country mountain biker. Unfortunately, we won't be seeing this 30-year-old part-time model in Beijing next month, thanks to the broken foot she suffered during a training ride.

2. Maria Sharapova

Over the past few seasons, the third-ranked player in the world has unofficially assumed Kournikova's throne as the hottest woman in tennis. But whereas Anna played up her image as the sultry little sexpot, the 6-foot-2 Sharapova lets her game speak as loudly as her looks.

1. Bia and Branca Feres

This one is kind of a reach, since they aren't exactly household names. But Brazilian twins Bia and Bianca Feres have been all over the magazines in their home country since winning a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the 2007 Pan Am Games.


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