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Top Athletes Strip Down in ESPN Body Photos (see!)

Top athletes from gymnast Alicia Sacramone to snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler grace this year’s ESPN magazine body issue, along with 18 other athletes, both male and female. Lean, sinewy bodies abound in newly released photos.

The issue is designed to give the rival Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue a run for its money.

ESPN foregoes soft, curvy models featured in the SI issue in favor of the hardened bodies of top athletes from a range of sports.

Check out ESPN’s photos; click to enlarge.

The NBA’s Blake Griffin, baseball’s Jose Reyes, Olympic speed skater Apolo Ono and the NFL Football’s Steven Jackson are among the male athletes posing nude for what’s officially known as the “Body Issue.”

But the term nude should be used loosely.

All of the athletes are artfully posed with their private parts strategically hidden from view. Technically, no Full Monty will be shown in any of the photos.

ESPN’s nude issue is gaining traction in its third year of publication.

In all, ESPN will feature 20 athletes in the buff in the “Bodies We Want” section of the 2011 issue, editor-in-chief Chad Millman, told USAToday.

“This is an issue in the short time we’ve been doing it that’s become pretty anticipated,” says Millman. “In terms of the athletes we’ve attracted, we feel like the group is really strong.”

The first Body Issue two years ago featured six cover subjects: tennis star Williams; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson; NASCAR driver Carl Edwards; mixed martial artist Gina Carano and amputee track star Sarah Reinertsen.

The issue hits newsstands Oct. 7. There will be four covers. Check out some of the photos above.

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