Twinkle toes

Professional athletes moonlight in all kinds of ways. Mary Lou Retton encouraged us to eat our Wheaties. Maria Sharapova tells us what time it is with her TAG-Heuer watch. George Foreman is a lean, mean, grilling machine. David Beckham does, well, this. (You're welcome.)

But there's one endorsement deal that screams "You've arrived!" like no stuffed mankini or greaseless T-bone can: an invitation to compete on "Dancing with the Stars." Unlike certain C- and -- let's be real -- D-list celebrities, whose inclusion in the DWTS lineup seems odd and a little desperate (See: Steve Guttenberg; Master P), when an athlete hits the floor, it lends a heady sense of credibility and star power.

I would imagine it also strikes fear in the hearts of their fellow contestants. Because whether you're talking samba, waltz, disco or pasodoble, athletes flat-out dominate this show. In the past 12 seasons, half have been won by pro athletes: gymnast Shawn Johnson, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, racecar driver Helio Castroneves and NFL stars Emmitt Smith and Hines Ward. Season 13's lineup includes Ricki Lake, Chaz Bono, Nancy Grace and David Arquette. Joining them will be U.S. women's national soccer team goalkeeper Hope Solo and Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest.

There are the obvious advantages: Football players are strong, fast and possess stellar eye-hand-foot coordination. Figure skaters are graceful and precise. Gymnasts can rock complicated moves like midair splits, or kick their leg up and hold it next to their ear.

I recently had the chance to meet Ohno -- who may very well be recognized more for his DWTS win than the fact he's the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian of all time -- at a SUBWAY-sponsored event in Chicago, where he was running his first half-marathon (as a stepping stone to the IMG NYC marathon in November.) Between bites, I asked the 2007 champ why athletes are such ringers on the dance floor.

"Two reasons: One, we're used to being coached. We can receive criticism and understand technique easily. And No. 2, we're used to a crazy schedule and regimen, and used to pushing ourselves every day."

Of course, there are few guarantees when it comes to DWTS, other than the fact that you will be spray tanned to within an inch of your life and find glitter in various bodily crevices for months afterward. Owning a jersey doesn't always equate with dancing success: Evander Holyfield was like a bull in a china shop in Season 1; Monica Seles was voted off of Season 6 after the first week. And injuries, which are quite common during the season, can be potentially career-ending for an athlete. (Volleyball player Misty May-Treanor ruptured her Achilles tendon; figure skater Evan Lysacek broke two of his toes.)

I also think men have an advantage when it comes to shaking what their mama gave them: Artest basically just has to keep up and look good doing it. Solo, on the other hand, has to go toe to toe with circus freaks like Julianne Hough and Edyta Sliwinska.

Will this year's mirror ball trophy be inscribed with "Metta World Peace"? Or will Carson Kressley swoop in wearing a fabulous purple sequined suit and steal the show? Tune into ABC on Monday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ET to find out.

EspnW columnist Leslie Goldman is a die-hard workout junkie who covers health and fitness for many popular women's magazines and is the author of "Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image and Re-imagining the 'Perfect' Body." Full disclosure: Her high school athletic experience was limited to sophomore-year color guard.

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