Naked Ambition

Hoping to convince any doubters that sailors are athletes, too, 2008 gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe goes sailing in the buff for ESPN the Magazine's annual The Body issue.

July 9, 2012
Sailing World


2008 Laser Radial gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe was one of the lesser known athletes selected to participate in ESPN the Magazine’s athletes-in-the-buff photo shoot for its annual The Body issue. But this dramatic photo, taken off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is likely to change all that. The issue will be online on July 11th, and on newsstands on July 13th. Steven Lippman/ESPN The Magazine

On Wednesday the world will see a side of Anna Tunnicliffe it hasn’t seen before. Well, technically, the side (her right) has been seen plenty of times, but only a few have seen it like this, namely, unshrouded by clothes.

Tunnicliffe, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the Laser Radial and a favorite for the gold in Women’s Match Racing in the upcoming London Olympics, was one of 27 athletes chosen to participate in the fourth edition of _ESPN the Magazine_’s The Body issue. This annual issue has featured some of the world’s top athletes in the buff, often with the appropriate sporting equipment providing enough cover that the magazine doesn’t require with an R rating. You can see two more photos, here and here.

Tunnicliffe (technically, Tunnicliffe Funk, since she’s married to Laser sailor Brad Funk) is the first sailor to be included in the series. In this exclusive interview, the 29-year-old talks about the experience, starting with how she came to be involved with ESPN’s answer to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.


Anna Tunnicliffe: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I think [U.S. Sailing Team communications director] Dana [Paxton] heard about it and was like, “Would you be interested in submitting your name?” I said, “OK sure, fat chance that sailing’s ever going to get selected.” They came back and said, [we’d] been keen on having her if she’s into it. I’m like, “Sure, let’s do it. Why not?”

Sailing World: So it doesn’t sound like there was much hesitation on your part when Dana suggested it?

AT: I think it’s a good opportunity to show that sailing’s not just booze cruising, that you have to be athletic. So it was a great opportunity to show the world that it is a physical sport.


SW: Were you familiar with this issue? It’s ESPN The Magazine’s answer to Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. They cover the essential body parts to keep it family friendly, but it’s otherwise very revealing.

AT: I had seen a couple of pictures. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” and then I started getting a bit nervous about it. But I just kept reminding myself that it’s good for the sport to show that you have to be fit and everything. In a way, it’s art. You work hard for a body, so why not show it off if it’s for a good cause.

SW: What about your family? Your husband and your parents?


AT: I definitely consulted with them beforehand. My mom was pretty keen on it. My dad and Brad were a little hesitant at first. We came to the conclusion that, why not go for it?

SW: Well, I was pretty surprised to see a sailor included in that list for sure. They usually focus on very high-profile athletes. You’re definitely in some elite company.

AT: I’m excited for it. I’m excited for it to come out, to see people’s reactions.


SW: That’s going to happen later this week, of course. The issue will be released online on July 11th with the magazine hitting newsstands on July 13th. What can you tell us about the photo shoot?

AT: We showed up at the [Lauderdale] Yacht Club, got the Laser rigged. Nobody knew what we were going out to go shoot for. It kind of took me by surprise how little everybody that was involved with the photoshoot knew what we were doing when we first got to the club. It was only me, Brad, and the photo editor that knew what was going on. And the photographer. But the photographer’s assistant didn’t know, and the people driving the safety boats didn’t know. On the tow out, it was broken to everybody what was actually going on. That made me a little nervous because all of the sudden everybody knew I was going to be sailing around with no clothes on. Whereas before they just thought it was a photoshoot. We got out there ,and I had my Olympic sail up from [2008]. I just sailed around and the photographers were very professional and very good at what they did. They just directed me through the kind of shot that they wanted. We did two short sessions; it was kind of a colder day, but it was windy and wavy. We got it done quite quickly.

SW: What sort of input did you have in terms of choosing the composition of the photo?

AT: When they first started talking about it, they were trying to figure out where we could do the photoshoot and I said, “Well, do you want to do it actually sailing?” And they, “Well, what do you do?” So we sent some actual hiking pictures. So they knew the position I was going to be in, and we just had to find the best way for the boat to look like it was going fast and hiked in the right position with the waves and everything. We eventually figured out that reaching in front of the camera was the way the shoot was going to go, and that’s how they got the picture.

SW: Most of the photos for this issue are done in a fairly controlled environment. This is clearly not the case for your photo. Was it a struggle to get everything right?

AT: The photographer was really good. He’s done a lot of surfing photos so he’s really good with the waves and the water. I think he got his shot rather quickly. We did two sessions, and I think he ended up taking a photo from the first session. I think he liked what he got. There’s only so much you can do once you’re sailing. It was easy, and he was pretty keen on what he was shooting.

SW: So you tow out, and then at some point you have to strip down and start sailing the boat. What were your nerves like when you had to get naked and go sailing?

AT: I just said, “Forget it, this is what I’m doing. I signed up for this and just do it.” When it finally came time to do it, I wasn’t that nervous, I just got on with it. You wear so much clothing normally in sailing, it was a totally different experience wearing absolutely nothing. It’s not something I would do every weekend, but it was definitely a totally different experience sailing around with no clothes on.

SW: And you did this in a Laser Radial? How much sailing do you do in the Radial these days

AT: Every now and then I get in and do some sailing with some friends. I haven’t been training in the Radial, but fortunately I still hike in the Elliott, so I remembered how to hike.

SW: As word has leaked out, what sort of reaction have you gotten from people?

AT: I haven’t heard a lot from people. When the news came out we were at our world championships in Sweden [where Tunnicliffe and her team of Debbie Capozzi and Molly Vandemoer finished second], and I only just got back to the U.S. a few days ago. I haven’t heard too much about it yet, but I’m pretty sure when the issue is released we’ll get the feedback. I’m hoping it’ll all be positive. But it’s good for the sport, it shows what the sport really involves.

SW: Did you get the sense from the folks at ESPN The Magazine that you should be prepared for some negative reactions?

AT: Not really from theme. I read a couple of articles on peoples’ views of when they did the photoshoot, the positives and negatives of it, what they were thinking. Someone’s always got something negative to say. There are always going to be critics out there. So really, it is what it is. I did it. I’m looking forward to it coming out, and if people are negative about it, then it’s kind of unfortunate. I’m sure some people will be positive about it, great, that’s the whole idea about it.

SW: For the sport, it’s great to see sailing alongside some more high profile sports. What about for you personally? How do you make this work for you?

AT: I haven’t really thought about it too much. I try to be a leader in the sport, especially for women in sailing. If this makes women more enthusiastic about going sailing, about getting in shape and pushing themselves to the limit, that’s part of my goal.

SW: And if makes some guys more enthusiastic about going sailing, that’s OK, too?

AT: That’s awesome, too. For me personally, leading into it, it made me get in really good shape.

SW: Are you saying that were not in really good shape? I think anyone who’s seen some of the workout photos you post on Facebook knows you’re always in tremendous shape.

AT: I was in good shape, but it made me really conscious about everything I ate for the month leading into it. Apart from that, am I looking for anything personal out of it? I don’t think so, it was a great opportunity, and you never know when those opportunities are going to come around–you have to take them when they come.

SW: What sort of reaction did you get from your peers at the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championships?

AT: Nothing was really said at the worlds. I think the biggest thing we’ve heard is, well, the Brits did it in 2008. They painted everybody gold and wrapped them in a flag and did a naked photoshoot. So I’m not the first sailor to have done something like this. The entire British Olympic team did something similar. There were positive and negative comments about that whole thing. I haven’t heard too much from my peers that know about it. We haven’t made too big of a push about it from US SAILING. I guess when the issue comes out that’s when Dana will say, “Hey look!” I guess the 11th or something, we’ll find out everybody’s real reaction.

SW: Anyone who’s seen you sail, or follows you on Facebook, knows your commitment to your conditioning. What are three or four things that a young sailor can do to help him or herself on the boat?

AT: You have to be really strong in your core. Sit ups. Focusing on your ab muscles and your back muscles, and keeping them in balance. Make sure you’re doing sit ups, making sure you’re doing Supermans. You use your quads a lot for sailing, and the only way to train for hiking is by actually hiking. But to be able to get a powerful tack, to be able to jump across the boat [it’s really helpful to do] one-legged squats, squatting all the way down and standing up, and then switching legs. Building your balance and the strength you need to be powerful across the boat, jump into your straps, hike out, and get the boat flat again. That’s one exercise, especially in my CrossFit, I’ve been doing more and more and I’ve been getting stronger and stronger at it. And I think that’s a very useful tool.

SW: Many sailors look at sailing as an arm-dominated sport, but when you talk to a lot of top sailors they always focus on the core and the legs.

AT: It depends on the boat you’re sailing. If you’re sailing a big boat, it’s maybe not as much legs involved and more upper body. But when you talk to dinghy sailors, Olympic sailors, there’s a lot of hiking, a lot of jumping across the boat, a lot of explosive movements. Even in a big boat there’s a lot of explosive movements, it’s just maybe at a slower pace, not happening as often. You modify your training program to the type of boat that your sailing.

SW: Tell us about the CrossFit training. You’ve even competed in some CrossFit competitions. Is it good training for sailing? Or do you do it more because you enjoy the challenge?

AT: I personally think it’s fantastic training for sailing. It’s definitely not for everybody. If you do it, I recommend finding a very good trainer to do it with and really focusing on your technique. All that said, it’s an absolutely amazing workout. Since I’ve been doing it, since October, I’ve gotten so much stronger; I’ve changed my body completely.

In the last quad, I ran half marathons and ultimately focused on doing a half Ironman, and I used that as a distraction. This time my distraction is CrossFit and the CrossFit competitions that I do. I love the physical challenge of it, I love having the competition outside of sailing, something I can think about when I don’t want to think about sailing.

SW: That’s an interesting point. Sailing can be so mentally taxing. Sometimes it’s nice to have a sport that’s somewhat opposite of that, where it’s simply about how much you can push, how much you can suffer, and doesn’t have the same mental component that sailing does?

AT: Exactly.

SW: The rumor is that this photo will run quite big in the magazine. Will this be something that gets framed and goes up on a wall in your house?

AT: I think I’ll probably put it on the wall. I’m pretty proud of it, for sure.


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