Missy Franklin headlines Annual Salute to Women in Sports as Sportswoman of the Year

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans during the 2012 London Summer Games, swimmer Missy Franklin earned the highest honor bestowed by the 34th Annual Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan. Former WSF President Aimee Mullins and freeskier Grete Eliassen presented Franklin with the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award.

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Following her remarkable performance at London that saw her capture four gold medals and a bronze, she staked her claim as the world’s greatest female swimmer two months ago. Competing at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Franklin claimed a record six gold medals. Entering her freshman year at the University of California, she beat out fellow nominees Serena Williams, figure skater Mao Asada and wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden.

Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker grabbed the award for the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Team Sport Award. Having helped the Sparks to a 21-10 record during the 2013 WNBA regular season, her season was complemented by claiming the league’s MVP award and posting a league-high 25.7 points per game.

Another highlights for the WNBA was the league being recognized with the Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Founded in 1997, the league has served as an inspiration for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Women’s Football Alliance, proving that women have every right to compete as professional athletes.

Vivian Hao won the Annika Inspiration Award named after golf legend Annika Sorenstam, who was also in attendance. A student at famed Duke University, she has contributed to various social causes and is also an accomplished tennis player.

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

One of the true highlights of the evening was the fact that many amputee athletes (including some that have competed in the Paralympics) were in attendance. From Alana Nichols to Scout Bassett, Mallory Weggeman and Tatyana McFadden, they were also joined by Melissa Stockwell, the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Winner. The criteria for the award is a female athlete that has displayed tremendous courage, having had the ability to overcome adversity and make significant contributions to sports

Stockwell is a true American hero. A former U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart winner, she lost her leg during service to her country in Iraq. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she took the opportunity to embrace a new endeavor. Becoming a Paralympic swimmer and accomplished triathlete, she put it best when she stated that she has accomplished more with one leg than she ever thought she could.

With McFadden having been nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award, it shows the positive impact women are making to the significant growth of paralympic sports. These remarkable women are a true inspiration for disabled people the world over.

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson. (Getty Images)

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson.
(Getty Images)

Sponsored by espnW and Gatorade, the event is a remarkable celebration of women in sport. The awards presentation was only half of the fun during a glorious evening. A remarkable red carpet to the Grand March of Athletes represented a sterling celebration for the accomplishment of women in sport. Of note, Mary Carillo and Julie Foudy co-hosted the Grand March, featuring 50 athletes.

Several heartwarming events helped define the spirit of friendship and sisterhood at the gala. Diana Nyad, who swam successfully from Cuba to Florida received a thunderous roar of approval. The recipient of a special tribute award, her commitment to making her goals come true was an inspiration.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to peek into the future. Two junior athletes, Sam Gordon, a 10 year-old football phenomenon and Amanda Rivera from the New York Junior Tennis League, graced the stage. They were joined by four-time Winter Games hockey participant Angela Ruggiero, who discussed life lessons learned from hockey. These two future stars could not have a better mentor in Ruggiero.

2012 ESPN Body Issue has Summer Games flair

In recent years, athletes such as Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova and Danica Patrick have been considered among the most beautiful in the world. The ESPN 2012 Body Issue clearly shows that there may be some new athletes to consider for such an honor.

While the images still left something to the imagination, there is no question that the stunning, alluring beauty of these athletes forces fans to see them in a whole new light. Although every athlete (male and female) appears nude in the ESPN Body Issue, there is no question that these are highly conditioned athletes.

Although the fact that these athletes are portrayed nude would indicate a certain degree of vulnerability, their nudity is also empowering, and shows a unique strength and courage. It is not everyone who would have the courage to be featured nude and have their appearance potentially criticized. Several female athletes from the Body Issue are competing in the London Summer Games (Candice Parker, Abby Wambach, Daniela Hantuchova) and the Paralympic Games (Oksana Masters), while others have been in Summer Games past (Anna Tunicliffe).

Candace Parker is clearly one of the most talented basketball players in the world. Her photo and illuminating smile make a strong case that she is just as attractive as fellow WNBA superstar and rival,  Lauren Jackson. If the two ever played on together, that would truly give new meaning to the word Dream Team.

Superstar tennis player Daniela Hantuchova may not have won the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games but she may prove to be just as popular as Maria Sharapova with her photos. Mentored by tennis great Martina Navratolova, the native of Slovakia was defeated by Caroline Wozniacki in the Summer Games. Having also appeared in the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (one of the few athletes to have appeared in both publications), the classically trained pianist also appeared on one of six special edition covers for the Body Issue.

In following teammate Hope Solo, who appeared in the 2011 ESPN Body Issue, US soccer player Abby Wambach looks like a Greek god in her photo. Although Wambach is not a sex symbol like Solo, the Florida Gator Athletic Hall of Fame inductee who scored the gold medal winning goal at the 2004 Athens Games displays a physique that looks like it was carved from marble. Her photos show a quiet dignity to her, a strength and toughness  that is unmatched. One that can withstand the sucker punch that she endured at the hands of a Columbian player in a 3-0 victory at the 2012 Summer Games (in which she managed to score a goal). The second highest all-time goal scorer in the history of FIFA women’s soccer, her shoulders look strong enough to carry the expectation of USA Soccer on them.

Paralympic athlete Oksana Masters also appears in the publication. Despite her affliction, she proves that people with disabilities can also be beautiful. Born in the Ukraine, Masters was a double knee amputee due to birth deformities caused by radiation poisoning inuterio. Rowing since the age of 13, Masters is as inspiring as she is beautiful. In a society where people with disabilities fight for equality, there is also a sexual struggle that exists. A struggle that the Body Issue may help to overcome.

Former bronze medalist at Beijing, Ronda Rousey (featured on one of six collectible covers) is one of the top female athletes in Ultimate Fighting. While UFC is not everyone’s sport of choice, Rousey has proven that it is not just the ring girls of UFC (such as Arianny Celeste) that are the attractive females of the promotion. Having co-hosted on the syndicated television program TMZ, the top ranked fighter is quickly becoming a household name.

Despite their stunning beauty, these captivating images will augment discussion and debate among sports purists. Whether these images are art or filthy is not a topic to be discussed here, but the publicity (and controversy) has resulted in fans already clamoring to see which of their favourite athletes will be in the 2013 edition.