St. Anthony's Triathlon Makes History Along Tampa Bay
It began four decades ago on a sunny Saturday morning by the Gulf of Mexico, alongside the sprawling shoreline and asphalt of Fort DeSoto Park. Some 30 professional triathletes and 500 age-group competitors were poised to compete in a new event – the Tampa Bay Triathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Triathlon Series.
Nobody that day could have imagined what lay ahead for the fledgling competition –becoming the internationally known St. Anthony’s Triathlon, marking its 40th year the final weekend of April along the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
“This is truly one of the world’s great triathlons,” said Patrick McGee, St. Anthony’s Triathlon race director. “We are one of the oldest triathlons in the country and are so proud to continue this wonderful tradition."
His words would prove both prophetic and a vast understatement.
Today, the St. Anthony’s Triathlon draws more than 3,000 athletes from 41 states and eight countries. What began as a single race has now grown to encompass three events – the Olympic distance St. Anthony’s Triathlon, the St. Anthony’s Sprint Triathlon, and the Meek & Mighty Triathlon.
The primary local sponsor for the inaugural race, it should be noted, was St. Anthony’s Hospital, stepping up to provide volunteers and administrative support. That marked the start of the hospital’s long-standing connection to the race, which soon moved to downtown St. Petersburg to build greater community support.
After that first year downtown, James turned the event over to St. Anthony’s Hospital. A few years later, organizers added the Meek & Mighty event on Saturday morning of race weekend, and the newly named St. Anthony’s Triathlon was off and running to its eventual world-class status.
“From the outset the St. Anthony’s Triathlon set a high standard for race management,” James wrote in a history of the event for USA Triathlon’s website. “And over the years it has been rewarded with national and international championship races and many accolades from the triathlon community.”
Among them: USA Triathlon has named St. Anthony’s Triathlon as “Race of the Year.” Active.com selected it as one of the 12 “must-do” triathlons. CompleteTri.com included St. Anthony’s Triathlon on its inaugural list of “10 favorite destination races in the U.S.” and Triathlon Magazine Canada included St. Anthony’s Triathlon as one of the “5 Bucket-List Olympic Distance Triathlons in North America.”
There have been plenty of milestones along the way. A major one occurred in 2005, when the Triathlon moved to its spacious, current location in Vinoy Park. The race expanded that year to 3,500 competitors and sold out in only five days.
Three years later, in 2008, the Triathlon was one of the largest Olympic-distance triathlons in the United States. The race welcomed a record number of more than 4,000 amateur and professional athletes from 48 states and 17 countries.
In 2014, race organizers added the Sprint-distance race on the same course as the Olympic distance event, but with shorter distances of a 750-meter swim, a 20K bike and a 5K run, compared to the 1.5K swim, 40K bike and 10K run.
Through the changes and additions, St. Anthony’s Triathlon organizers are proud to celebrate a race that began long ago by the Gulf and has come of age by the Bay.