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In any week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED photo editors may look at close to a quarter of a million images. Usually about 100,000 will have been taken by our staff photographers; the rest are submitted by photo agencies, wire services and freelancers. Sifting through this mountain of pictures to find the 100 or so that appear in the typical issue of SI might seem like a nightmare, but to photography editor Jimmy Colton it's a treasure hunt. "You dig for gems, and when you find them, they just jump off the screen," says Colton, who devotes four to five hours a day to his search for the extraordinary. "Those are the pictures that I believe absolutely have to be in the magazine."
Many of Colton's finds appear in SI's LEADING OFF section, but many more never make the magazine, often because there simply isn't enough space for them. This special issue of SI allows us to bring together another 27 of Colton's greatest discoveries of 2009, beginning with the cover shot by the AP's Morry Gash, in which the helmet visor of Wisconsin running back John Clay reflects the Badgers' offensive unit and the contours of Camp Randall Stadium in Madison during a game against Michigan on Nov. 14.
Most of the images in this issue were taken by sports photographers, but some came from shooters with other specialties and one from a man whose work has taken him not only to the Olympics but also to the battle zones of the Middle East and Central Asia. Emilio Morenatti shot the beautiful picture of children playing soccer in Kabul (page 20) as he waited to be embedded with U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. There, his military vehicle would run over a roadside bomb, and he would lose his left foot. Morenatti, 40, a Spaniard who works for the AP out of Islamabad, Pakistan, was named the 2009 Newspaper Photographer of the Year by Pictures of the Year International.
Triathletes hit the waters of Kailua Bay in Hawaii on Oct. 10 to start the Ford Ironman World Championship. About 1,800 men and women from 58 countries entered the event, a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Australia's Craig Alexander, 36, won for the second straight year, in 8:20:21.
"I SWAM OUT WITH SCUBA GEAR AND PARKED MYSELF ABOUT 30 FEET BELOW THE SURFACE. AFTER I'D WATCHED FISH GO BY FOR 25 MINUTES, THE HORN WENT OFF AND THE MASS OF HUMANITY SWAM OVERHEAD."