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When the Winner Takes It All Off

July 17, 2001|ROBIN GIVHAN | WASHINGTON POST

With almost every victory that put him closer to the championship at Wimbledon last week, Goran Ivanisevic would celebrate by yanking off his shirt and thrusting his fists in the air.

The routine did become a little tedious. Still, it was hard not to be moved by such pure glee.

When Ivanisevic returned home to Croatia--to a mob of fans cheering his victory--he took off much more than his shirt. He was flinging his entire wardrobe to the crowd. At one point, he took off everything down to his briefs.

In any discussion of an athlete doing a notable striptease, one is reminded of soccer's Brandi Chastain, who, after nailing the World Cup-winning kick in 1999, ripped off her jersey to reveal her sports bra. Her personal unveiling was one of those cultural touchstones, a moment when talk of female athleticism, body image and the objectification of women all converged.

With Ivanisevic, the only talk is pretty much "Nice biceps."

Still, one is tempted to ask: Why is the striptease the athlete's way of showing enthusiasm? Is the pull of exhibitionism that strong? Imagine some starlet ripping off her vintage designer gown when her name is called at the Oscars.

Sure, an athlete's clothes are sweaty, but it isn't that far from the field or the court to the showers. Patience is not the issue. It has to be about the body. After all, that has been the engine driving the victory, and pulling off the clothes is like revealing the secret to success.

In many ways, clothes--for men, that is--are an ongoing, complicated attempt to transform the body into an athletic ideal. One reason that a business suit is so universally flattering is that it offers the illusion of broad shoulders and a torso that tapers at the waist.

A current advertisement for a chain of gyms pictures a 30-something man riding a bike, sweat flying. It is accompanied by this reminder: "At some point, the suit has to come off."

For athletes, the clothes come off at the moment of victory. When the body has proven its potential, clothes have nothing left to offer.

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