Leryn Franco might have finished in 51st place in the javelin throw at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but that didn't matter. Few people were talking about her athletic skills as much as they were talking about her jaw-dropping good looks. Now, Franco is set to make her comeback at the 2012 London Olympic Games where she, along with other attractive athletes, can use their good looks to score some marketing gold.
The 30-year-old Paraguayan beauty was Yahoo's second most-searched Olympian in 2008, after Michael Phelps, according to BuzzFeed Sports.
And those searches for Franco likely garnered results such as swimsuit photo shoots and beauty pageant results. Franco competed in the 2006 Miss Paraguay pageant as well as in the MIss Bikini Universe pageant. She is a successful model and TV personality in her native country and that popularity is permeating into the U.S. She was chosen to pose for the 2011 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and she ranked No. 64 on AskMen.com's "Top 99 Women" of 2012 list, jumping 22 spots in just three years.
She knows that her career has developed into more than just javelin and she embraces it.
"My career is media," Franco told the Spanish-language news agency Efe. "One can turn on the TV or look at a magazine and see me."
Her popularity continues to grow with some sports bloggers dubbing her the woman to watch at the 2012 Olympics.
"She will be competing in the 2012 Olympics in London, and once again will explode in popularity as people tune in to watch a sport they have absolutely no interest in just to get a glimpse of her," wrote Bleacher Report columnist, Alex Kay. "If she ever becomes a superstar athlete who wins competitions as well as retaining her natural beauty, I think she will become a name that everyone remembers."
Kay certainly has a point. Despite her performance slip-ups, Franco is featured in Nike's 2012 "Look of Sport" campaign, a clear sign that she is already on the radar.
“You decide that you don't want to go backward,” Franco told Nike of missteps she made after her mother died in 2008. “You want to go forward. But sometimes, going 'backward' isn‟t really going backward, it's actually moving forward.”
- Visit Nike's website to read Leryn Franco's full interview.
Of course, Franco isn't the only bombshell who can use her good looks to amp up her celebrity clout at this year's Olympics.
When ESPN Magazine's 2012 "Body Issue" hit shelves, not even news about the 100,000 condoms needed at Olympic Village had people in such a tizzy as the naked athletes. The magazine's editor in chief, Chad Millman, told the Associated Press in June that during the scouting process they tried to choose athletes who "just recently popped."
While some of those who bared it all for the issue have already made a name for themselves, others athletes are not as readily recognizable. For these lesser-knowns, posing could pay off.
"The Olympics are always extremely popular, but casual fans can rarely name more than a couple of athletes competing," Bleacher Report's Rob Goldberg wrote.
Goldberg highlights the pictorials of women's soccer player Abby Wambach, gymnast Danell Leyva and the entire U.S. women's volleyball team and argues there's nothing like a naked photo to help would-be fans remember a name.
"It takes a lot of guts for these men and women to pose nude in a nationally distributed magazine," Goldberg wrote. "But the effects of the decision should be worth it."
Whether it's a tasteful naked portrait, show-stopping good looks, or both, sex appeal can only help Olympic athletes who hope to earn gold-plated reputations this year.
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