LOS ANGELES—In the wake of the Summer Olympics, during which many American women achieved a level of media attention often reserved for men, sports fans are pleased to report that female athletes are continuing to make great strides in their personal appearances.

Maria Sharapova.

"As recently as 20 years ago, women's sports were for hardcore fans only, most of them women," Gary Hoenig, editor of ESPN The Magazine, said Monday. "But due in a large part to the superior facial features of women like Maria Sharapova, the media have turned a spotlight on female athletics—and Americans of both genders are tuning in."

According to Hoenig, coverage of female athletes is no longer relegated to the back pages of sports magazines.

"Female players are finally being recognized by a larger audience—they're getting larger photos in the newspapers, appearing on talk shows, and taking the covers of magazines like Maxim and Playboy," Hoenig said. "As these ladies get prettier, that exposure will only grow."

Although women's athletics have produced the occasional good-looking stars, like tennis great Chris Evert or gymnast Mary Lou Retton, women like U.S. soccer champions Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain have raised the bar.

"In the old days, when people talked about the female athletes of the day, words like 'perky,' 'fit,' and even 'handsome' would be used," Hoenig said. "Today, you hear words like 'sexy,' 'hot,' and even 'fuckable.' These women athletes are more attractive than ever, and the nation is taking notice."

Experts say the massive popularity of tennis champ Anna Kournikova has had an undeniable effect on female athletics, as well.

"Anna changed the way people see female athletes," Hoenig said. "She's not just focused on being a star on the court. She wants to star at red-carpet events, in the gossip pages, and in her own line of swimsuit calendars. That she never won a singles tournament and barely cracked the Top 10 ranking during her athletic career doesn't change the fact that she looks incredibly hot in a tennis ensemble."

Though some female athletes make beauty seem effortless, it isn't, Hoenig said.

U.S. Olympic high jumper Amy Acuff.

"Six-pack abs don't just happen," Hoenig said. "These ladies work. Sure, some of their fabulous strides in appearance can be traced back to superior genes, but Mother Nature only gets you so far. Jennie Finch, pitcher for the U.S. Olympic softball team, reported that she spends as many as six hours a day at the gym."

"It shows," he added.

Hoenig also applauded the increased effort women athletes are putting into fashion.

"Serena Williams, with her wide assortment of outfits, exemplifies the changing face of women's sports," Hoenig said. "And don't forget lady jocks like Mary Sauer and Haley Cope. Do you know how difficult it is to be as physically active as these women are and still have long hair? Without it, you aren't likely to get on the cover of FHM."

According to Frank Borne, author of Great Strides, younger generations are more willing to embrace good-looking women athletes than are older sports fans. As a result, more sports franchises are now seeking attractive individuals to serve as the faces and firm bodies representing their respective teams.

"It's so refreshing to see more female athletes overcome hurdles," Borne said. "Thanks to their superior facial features and careful attention to hair and clothing, many of these girls are achieving what would have been thought impossible a few decades ago. Perhaps someday, women athletes will be pretty enough to rank among the nation's top actresses and models."

Unfortunately, Borne said, professional sports organizations, by focusing on the women's athletic achievements, sometimes hamper the players' ability to draw a crowd.

"A lot of athletes find themselves hamstrung by the rules of their own teams," Borne said. "It wouldn't hurt the WNBA to come up with sexier team outfits. Do you realize how much their audience would broaden if more of these girls were allowed some time off to model on the side? Tastefully done semi-nude photo shoots bring a lot of attention to the players and the sports they play."

Added Borne: "Isn't that what any athlete really wants—to bring her sport and team more glory? I think it is."