NEW YORK — From fine-art photographs of wrestlers hanging in a Manhattan art gallery to big-screen flicks about boxing and ballet, popular culture is currently having a love affair with athleticism.

While sports have long been a source of ideas for filmmakers and artists, there are currently a wide range of athletic-inspired movies, plays, books and photo exhibits that appeal to avid sports fans, as well as casual spectators and armchair enthusiasts.

Some of the new films, such as “Miracle” and “Touching the Void” depict historical events, and they and others such as “The Company” use real athletes in their movies.

Even the recent real-life hoopla around baseball star Alex Rodriguez and his move to the New York Yankees could be seen as its own form of popular culture, since this story and its many facets dominated sports pages and mainstream media in recent weeks.

George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer at Everlast Worldwide, noted that some of the current crop of films depict historical events and a time when sports were generally more innocent.

“So many sports have such rich histories and there were great sports heroes who had a lot of loyalty to their teams,” Horowitz said. “During difficult economic times, people look to those heroes and they also look for an escape, which sports provide. Many people like to compare modern athletes to sports stars of the past.”

Everlast has provided apparel and equipment to a number of films recently, including “Against the Ropes” starring Meg Ryan. The feel-good film is loosely based on the life story of Jackie Kallan, one of the first and most successful female boxing managers. Ryan, who is clad in a series of revealing outfits throughout the film, negotiates the male world of boxing to develop an urban drug dealer into a winning athlete.

Among other new films is “Miracle,” which serves up the story of real-life coach Herb Brooks and his team of young American hockey players, all amateurs, who beat the highly regarded Russian team and went on to win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics against long odds as the Cold War raged on. The movie mixes in historical footage of the events of that time and much of the action takes place on the ice.“The Company,” a film starring Neve Campbell, offers an inside look at the world of elite ballet dancers. The story follows Campbell as she and other dancers cope with the demands of being a professional ballerina and the toll it extracts on both their professional and personal lives. Real dancers from the Joffrey Ballet company in Chicago were used to make the film.

Extreme sports enthusiasts can come face to face with the harrowing world of ice climbing in the movie “Touching the Void,” which is based on the true story of two young mountain climbers. The two men were attempting to reach the summit of the Siula Grande peak in the Peruvian Andes, a feat that had never been achieved. They do reach the peak, but on the descent one falls and breaks his leg, and the other attempts to carry him down on a rope, a plan that goes awry. The uninjured man thinks that the only way for him to survive is to cut the rope, letting his injured friend fall into acrevice. The story follows the injured climber’s slow and miraculous descent back to base camp after it is assumed he is dead. The film weaves in interviews and voice-overs with both of the actual men.

Lighter fare can be had off Broadway in the musical revue “Golf: The Musical,” a humorous look at the sport. There is a musical number built around the premise that now that Iraq has been liberated, America can help it join the ranks of the “free world” by teaching its citizens to play golf. Other skits are built around topics like the loneliness of the female golfer and the businessman who dreams of playing a perfect round on the links.

More high-brow arts patrons also have a spate of athletic-inspired photography shows and books to peruse. A series of black-and-white shots by photographer Collier Schorr was recently on display at 303 Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood that shows young wrestlers as they tone their physiques.

The Whitney Biennial 2004 show, which just opened, includes photos of surfers by photographer Catherine Opie mixed in with a range of films, prints and other contemporary art pieces, and a recent book of photographs of high school cheerleaders and football called “2-4-6-8” by Brian Finke shows the inner life of these two all-American pastimes.Another book making the rounds isPete Rose’s memoir “My Prison Without Bars,” which is currently on The New York Times bestseller list. The story chronicles the trials and tribulations of the former all-star, who eventually became manager of the Cincinnati Reds, but has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame for gambling on the sport.

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