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SI.com's Arash Markazi is spending the week reporting on this year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit launch. The issue hit newsstands on Feb. 10.
PHOENIX – The harsh reality that my life had returned to relative normalcy hit me as I sat in the middle seat of a crowded Southwest flight to Phoenix that wasn't filled with SI Swimsuit models, didn't offer up bottomless glasses of champagne and didn't have Bar Refaeli's body pained on the outside.
I was lifted out of whatever fantasy world I was in for the past five days and thrust back into the more humble life of a sportswriter, for better or worse.
My week began on Monday inside of small office in the lower east side of New York where Refaeli's life changed forever when she was told she was named the cover girl of the SI Swimsuit issue and finished up with a party that dipped into Friday morning at LAX. It was there I found myself dancing to a live performance by John Legend from a VIP balcony at club LAX in between Jessica Gomes and Jarah Mariano.
Before I officially retire my self-promoting, supermodel-following, Bar-fawning hat and return to the real world, here are a few things I've learned over the past few days:
• I don't think there's any real connection between sports and swimsuits, especially skimpy bikinis and revealing body paintings, but after talking to every model I do know there's no bigger prize in the modeling industry than the cover of Sports Illustrated. It's really a fascinating phenomenon when you consider that few actually pick up the magazine during the year and couldn't tell you the difference between Tom Verducci and Gianni Versace. It would be the equivalent of an athlete's biggest honor being on the cover of Vogue.
• Some day, the fame and notoriety that comes with being on the cover of the SI Swimsuit issue will wear off for Refaeli. Some day soon, the sight of seeing herself on the cover of magazines and TV will wear off. Until then, it was refreshing to see her reaction to not only getting the cover but everything that happened afterward. Four days after getting the cover, she grabbed a copy of the magazine from my hand and stared at it for a good minute before she said, "I love it. I still can't believe it. When I see it in someone else's hands I still get goose bumps."
• Finally taking a page from the ridiculous sports tradition of predicting next year's champion the minute after a season ends, my odds on favorite to get the cover of the SI Swimsuit issue next year is Brooklyn Decker. The future Mrs. Andy Roddick nearly got the cover this year and I'd be shocked if I wasn't stalking, er, reporting on her whirlwind week next year.