Colin Kaepernick, Matt Harvey, Kerri Walsh Jennings among athletes baring all for ESPN The Magazine’s fifth annual “Body Issue”

ESPN The Magazine launches its fifth “Body Issue” — an annual celebration of the athletic form — featuring 21 talents from across the world of sports and eight special covers showcasing: Olympic volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, golf legend Gary Player, NBA forward Kenneth Faried, NBA guard John Wall, NHRA driver Courtney Force, MLB slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Team USA soccer forward Sydney Leroux and Moto X gold medalist Tarah Gieger.

The Mag provides Front Row a sneak peek of the Body Issue arriving for subscribers this week and on newsstands Friday. The Mag’s Senior Deputy Editor Neely Lohmann discusses what makes this fifth edition so special:

Now that you have your second Body Issue as top editor under your belt, how does this experience differ from your first?

Deputy Editor Neely Lohmann during the Gary Player photo shoot.

Senior Deputy Editor Neely Lohmann during the Gary Player photo shoot.

Every year we raise the bar on the caliber of athletes and the quality of photography featured in the issue. That’s the good news and the bad news, because it’s a challenge to find ways to outdo last year’s edition. But that’s also part of what makes working on the issue so rewarding.

This year, I’m especially proud of the diversity of athletes represented. Having the opportunity to capture a three-time Olympic gold medalist like Kerri Walsh Jennings eight months pregnant, then again nine weeks after giving birth, was beyond my wildest dreams. And to have a 77-year old living legend like Gary Player share his lifelong commitment to fitness was such an honor. In addition this year, we are proud to be featuring the Body Issue’s first NFL quarterback, [San Francisco 49er] Colin Kaepernick, as well as our first MLB pitcher, [New York Met] Matt Harvey.

How did you decide who would be the eight cover subjects (up from six covers last year)?
Selecting covers is never an easy task. We face the wonderful problem of having to choose from an ever-increasing pool of truly cover-worthy photographs. This year was no different. Once we’d whittled it down to eight options, we really felt each of them represented a different but important aspect of the Body Issue brand –- power, grace, strength, the idea of body transformation, a lifetime commitment to fitness, etc. They are all important tenets of the Body Issue mission and, especially being our fifth anniversary edition, we wanted all of those things represented.

How many images were shot for the issue, and how did you whittle it down to the final number of shots used?
I can’t begin to calculate how many thousands of images we must have shot from beginning to end, but it was a lot. Fortunately, there are several layers of editing built into our process. The first and most important layer, of course, takes place on set when the athlete and the photographer review test shots together and collaborate on poses. The athletes have a lot of input. After that, the photographer has his or her favorites, which then go to our photo editors for another review. When it comes to the later stages and final selects, [Senior Director of Photography] Karen Frank and the photo team work closely with me, Editor-in-Chief Chad Millman, and Creative Director John Korpics.

Tell us about September’s stand-alone Body Issue.
“The Body Issue Portfolio” is our way of celebrating five years of extraordinary athletes and photography, and it’s been so much fun to put together. The process of reviewing each edition of the Body Issue, from 2009 to 2013, and curating the images gave our team an even deeper appreciation for all the hard work and attention to detail that goes into producing each and every issue. It reinforces the responsibility we feel for maintaining that level of excellence going forward. When the special issue hits newsstands on Sept. 24, I’m looking forward to flipping through 100 pages of breathtaking images.

For more on the making of the “Body Issue” visit here.