05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
In choosing the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World each year, it's natural to turn to familiar faces like our cover girl, red-hot Julia Roberts
, who's making her fifth appearance on the list. But for the first Beauties issue of the new century (and our 11th overall), we decided to also provide a sneak peek at some stars-in-the-making: 13 U.S. Olympic team hopefuls poised to make a splash at the Summer Games in Sydney.
"We looked at photos of every athlete in every sport," says assistant managing editor Elizabeth Sporkin, who headed up this issue. "We wanted beautiful faces in addition to athletic bodies."
Once we picked our Olympians, special issues picture editor Maddy Miller passed the torch to Manhattan-based photographer Gwendolen Cates, who has shot Halle Berry
, Ivana Trump, Michael Bolton and numerous other celebrities for PEOPLE during the last six years. For this assignment, Cates set off on a monthlong marathon through five states to capture our subjects in their training environments. "Even though most of the athletes she was shooting aren't famous yet," says Miller, "I knew her style would bring out their star qualities."
Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn't always a good sport. "These athletes compete in the Summer Games, but we were shooting in the middle of winter," Cates says. The result? Rower Lianne Nelson modeled in San Diego in the midst of a frigid downpour, while water polo players Dan Hackett and Chi Kredell shivered in an outdoor pool in Newport Beach, Calif., during a March chill. But there were no complaints. "Their dedication and discipline make an impression," says Cates, who ended the assignment "wanting to get out there and be fit and run like the wind!"
The aspirations of our Olympic Beauties are a bit loftier: a place atop the medal stand. "When I was about 6 years old," says track star Marion Jones, "I wrote on my blackboard that I wanted to be an Olympic champion."
Should that happen for Jones or any of our other athletes, overnight celebrity may follow. It's entirely possible that their faces could become almost as familiar as those belonging to, say, Tom Cruise
, Ashley Judd or Shania Twain—all of whom are on our list of 50 for the year 2000. Seems like a beautiful way to start a new millennium.