Football players — yeah, it can be cool to play ball.
Basketball players — yeah, that’s cool, too.
Gymnasts — um, all you football and basketball players: did you notice who it was doing handsprings on the runway and cuddling up later for snapshots with lingerie-wearing super-models at the Victoria’s Secret 2010 fashion show Wednesday night in New York?
Did all you football and basketball players notice those ripped, buff guys with six-pack abs?
Those were, for the most part, U.S. Olympic and national-team gymnasts, past and present, and that — at the intersection of sports and American pop culture — makes for one of the best advertisements the sport could ever ask for, a reminder that men’s gymnastics is for guys who are as tough as steel and that, too, men’s gymnastics deserves way, way, way more attention than it usually gets.
Which is, to over-simplify, once every four years.
And, even then — the men are often overshadowed by the girls.
Formally, that would be the “women’s events,” but as everyone understands those are — with exceptions — teen-age girls out there, not women.
The men — they’re men.
David Durante — the 2007 U.S. all-around champion, he’s a Stanford grad who just spent the last year burnishing his renaissance-man chops in Italy.
Morgan Hamm — a two-time Olympian, now married, now in pharmacy school in Wisconsin.
John Macready — the youngest member of the 1996 Olympic team, he has gone on to make a career out of hosting gymnastics and other events. “I never dreamed gymnastics would take me to the places I’ve seen or the things I’ve done,” he said.
The full list of the nine who now go down in Victoria’s Secret, and gymnastics, lore: Durante, Hamm, Macready, Stephen McCain, Sasha Artemev, Alexei Bilozertchev, Chris Brooks, Wes Haagensen and Derek Shepard.
“This was definitely an opportunity that when I saw it, I thought, you’re not going to get many of these types in your experiences in your life. I’m like, all right, I’m doing it,” Hamm said.
And talk about an understanding wife — asked how his bride of 18 months, Megan, reacted when she first heard about what was up, he said she responded, “Wow, cool.”
“I heard that Blaine turned it down,” Durante said, meaning Blaine Wilson, the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic-team mainstay, “and it will probably be the biggest regret of his life.”
Because this is just a partial list of who else was at the show Wednesday night, which airs Nov. 30 on CBS:
Katy Perry, who arrived flaunting considerable cleavage and “looking eye-popping in pink,” as one celebrity website put it. Akon, the R&B star. Tennis star Serena Williams. “Entourage” actor Adrian Grenier. “Blondie” singer Debbie Harry.
Oh, and did we mention there were scantily clad models?
“Obviously,” said Shane Geraghty, the link between the show and the top U.S. gymnasts, “Victoria’s Secret has the hottest models in the world. To have them interacting with these top gymnasts, and making the gymnasts sexy on the same level the girls are — that was great.
“The girls would come down the runway and give the guys props, a wink or a high-five. They were very excited about it — the girls, that is. All that makes gymnastics look cool.”
Geraghty is now 37. In college, he was twice captain of the Syracuse gymnastics team. He and Jonathan Nosan, who has a theater and circus-training background, run a production and event-management company in New York City called Acroback.
Originally, Geraghty said, the thought was to recruit some local gymnastics-type talent for the Victoria’s Secret show.
Quickly enough, though, it became apparent that they needed more. They needed guys who could handle the intensity of a demanding rehearsal schedule and still be able to go at show time.
They needed national- and Olympic-caliber gymnasts.
“The rehearsing was intense,” Durante said. “We got there,” to New York, “on Saturday night. We rehearsed all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday,” from 10 in the morning until 9 at night. “We went through two dry-runs Wednesday morning with the models. Then we had two shows Wednesday night.”
Macready said, “We’re coming back into the building for the second show, two or three of us, and I heard out of the side of my ear someone say, ‘Those guys are the gymnasts who are so absolutely amazing.’ To have someone in that environment make a comment like that — it was like, wow, this is cool.”
Macready also said, “When we first got there,” for the first rehearsals, “one of the ladies who was a stage coordinator said, ‘I bet everyone made fun of you in high school for being a gymnast. Now they’re going to see you and say, I want to be a gymnast.’
“It funny,” he went on. “When you’re growing up in that environment,” meaning high school, “it’s all about what is cool and not cool, what is tough and not tough. When you get older, and I’m now 35, you have people who in football and other tough sports show you respect and show you how amazing they think your sport is.”
All along, it was critical to Geraghty that stylistically the gymnasts be perceived on the runway as — well, gymnasts. That is, not as dancers or Cirque du Soleil-style characters.
“It was such a great thing for the gymnasts to be able to do something on this scale,” he said. “It was great to involve the male gymnastics, who can be overlooked outside of the Olympics. And I hope it gets boys excited to be involved in gymnastics.”
As the Huffington Post reported: “Longtime model Isabeli Fontana did enjoy a fully engaging moment during this show when she strutted in a silver bra and sequin swim bottoms carrying an oversized barbell and tossed it to a group of bare-chested male gymnasts.”
“Just being around such amazingly beautiful women and being able to perform on stage with them — that was pretty exciting,” Hamm said.
“The only way I can put it,” Durante said as the sun came up on another morning and it was no longer a day in which he was hanging around a bunch of hot models, “is that it’s depressing today.”