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Recalled: Past Champions On The New York City Triathlon

This Sunday, athletes will head for the famous finish line in Central Park. What is it about a non-drafting Olympic distance race right in the heart of Manhattan?

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As one of the longest-running (and now, one of the only) non-drafting Olympic distance races on the pro circuit, the New York City Triathlon has been attracting some of the best triathletes in the world to the streets of Manhattan for more than two decades. With Olympians, world champs, and future Hall of Famers crossing the finish line in Central Park over the years, it’s served as a place where triathlon dreams—and memories—are made. 

And, as another crop of pros—and thousands of age-groupers—get ready to race down the Hudson River, up the West Side Highway, and around Central Park York this Sunday, July 24, we’ve rounded up some of the past NYC Tri champions to offer a glimpse into makes this race in the “greatest city in the world” so, well, great. 

Karen Smyers, 2001 champion 

“It’s just so cool to have a race in the middle of such a huge, bustling city—and to have the streets almost to ourselves. And I just loved the down-current swim! It was so fast, a piece of driftwood could do a 16-minute mile. The hardest part is getting your shoulders and arms in front of your legs at the start; holding on to the pier at the start, your legs would be downstream until the gun fired, and then you had to let go and start swimming but it took some effort to catch up to the downstream legs. I also loved running in Central Park, although I’ll never forget getting lapped there as I got last at the Goodwill Games in 1998 (to be fair, I was just 3 months postpartum so I may have rushed things a bit). It felt especially good to return to form and be able to win the Nationals there three years later.” 

I remember heading down to the race start at 4 a.m. and seeing people walking home from their night out partying.

Jarrod Shoemaker, 2005 champion

“New York City was my very first win as a pro. Two funny things stand out about that day: I remember heading down to the race start at 4 a.m. and seeing people walking home from their night out partying. Also, in Central Park, there were people out for their morning run or bike who didn’t know the race was going on. We’d come flying by them on the run, and we’d get a belated cheer. When I crossed the finish line, my sister, Jenna, and my mom were in disbelief that I’d won. I saw Jenna pushing through the crowd and security, yelling, “That’s my brother!” I had just started dating my [now] wife, Alicia Kaye, a few weeks before, so maybe winning impressed her. Although she went on to win in NYC twice and Jenna won, as well.”

Filip Ospaly, 2010 champion

“Every race in the city center is something special. And when it is in New York City, it is even more so. It was my first and only trip to New York City [from my home in the Czech Republic], so it really stands out, although I remember being surprised about how hilly Central Park is. It seemed much more flat in the films. The 5:50 a.m. start was the earliest race start in my career, and I liked it. After the race, I had breakfast and a cooldown swim in the local swimming pool. By midday, I almost forgot I had raced!”

The Wassner sisters celebrate going 1-2. (Photo: Photo by Dario Cantatore/Getty Images)

Rebeccah Wassner, 2009, 2010, and 2011 champion

“New York City is my hometown race. It was also my first-ever Olympic distance as an age-grouper. As someone new to the sport, having such a big race basically in my backyard gave me the opportunity to experience real competition and to witness a pro race. It gave me a chance to see how strong and fast the professional athletes were and gave me hope that maybe I’d be competitive with them one day. My favorite memory of all the times I’ve done NYC is finding myself in first place during the run at the 2010 race and hearing that my twin sister, Laurel, was in second place—we finished one-two that year, which was just so special. Crossing the finish line in 2013 and being greeted by my six-month-old daughter is another highlight. Also, I think I am the only pro who can claim to have three kids compete in the Diaper Derby at the race expo.”

RELATED: A New York City Triathlon Three-Peat

Jenna Parker, 2013 champion

“Winning in NYC was always on my bucket list. The race is so iconic and there’s such an energy about the city. I had finished on the podium a number of times and it was a must win for me before I retired. In many ways it was a culmination and celebration of my 10-year professional career.

While the swim is super fast (I swam a 9-minute mile!), the bike is deceivingly challenging. The year I won I just kept repeating ‘always breaking, never broken’ over and over as I battled back and forth for the lead. I refused to be broken by the course or another racer that year. I also always loved riding through the toll booth. How can you not crack a smile, even mid-race?

As I got closer to the finish line, it felt like the park and the city were carrying me to the finish line. To this day, when I go back to Central Park and run on that part of the course I get goosebumps and it feels like I’ve come home in a very special way.”

Jenna Parker winning in Central Park. Photo: Josh Iverson

Jordan Jones, 2013 champion

“I figured that I didn’t quite have what it took to make it into the Olympics or win a world championship. However, I thought that I had it in me to win a big city triathlon, and in 2012 I set my sights on realizing that dream at the New York City Triathlon. Studying the course, I strategized that if I emptied myself on the bike and could get a lead going into the run then I could rely on my running background to see me through to the winner’s finishing tape. That’s exactly how it played out and I remember running through Central Park with an odd mix of feelings, as I was elated that the win was in my hands yet feeling absolutely maxed out at the big effort. I held on and it was an incredible feeling to cross the line with the win.

The start of the run when athletes connect from the West Side Highway across to Central Park always felt surreal. It’s a relatively short section of the course, but it left an imprint in my mind because you normally don’t get the opportunity to run in the middle of that kind of street amid that kind of vibrant city life. And then there’s the cosmopolitan crowd in Central Park. You get a mix of fans who specifically came out to watch the race, as well as people who serendipitously happened across the race during their morning and joined in watching their first triathlon ever. There is no city like New York.”

Athletes ride through the streets of New York. Photo: Photo by Dario Cantatore/Getty Images

Cameron Dye, 2016 champion

“Riding to the race in the morning while the bars are getting out. The crazy early start, riding down the empty highway, running through the city and the park…it was all so cool to be in the middle of the busiest city in the country doing a race. The race is huge, but I’d see a lot of the same people year after year. One of my favorite memories is hanging out with a bunch of FDNY and NYPD guys after the race one year.

I loved how challenging the course was with the hills and the rough roads, and I also liked the out-and-back because it gave you a look at where the rest of the racers were. Central Park is amazing, but the hills are unforgiving. It’s one of the toughest run courses out there. And finally, as a guy that always got pizza the night before the race, it was easy to find a good slice in NYC.”

Sarah Haskins, 2016 champion

“The NYC Tri is such a unique race. You’re racing in one of the busiest cities in the world! My favorite memory is running through Central Park. It’s so beautiful and right in the middle of the city. Despite the hills, I enjoyed finishing the race in such an iconic location. Another thing I’ll never forget about this race is seeing the athletes exiting the swim with a nice ‘mud makeover’ on their face. The Hudson isn’t the cleanest, but at least it’s very fast!”