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Swimmers race in chilly, scenic NYC marathon swim

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sixty-four swimmers braved cold New York waters Saturday to race the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, one of the world's premier marathon swimming events.

The race began at 7 a.m. in the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and lasted until mid-afternoon.

"It's sort of the Everest of New York City," race spokeswoman Susan Bowman told CNN.

The 16 individuals and 9 relay teams headed north to where the East River meets the Harlem River, then west to the Hudson River and down the Hudson to the finish line near the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Battery Park City.

Competitors hailed from nine U.S. states plus Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia.

The race is among the world's top three marathon swims, the other two being the 21-mile English Channel swim and the 21-mile Catalina Island event off Los Angeles. New York's race is a qualifier for the English Channel race, the oldest and best-known, Bowman said.

The English Channel swim is also the most difficult of the three because of the cold temperatures and strong ocean currents, she said.

The top two finishers were Steve Klugman, 38, of Cape Town, South Africa, who swam the English Channel last year; and Nicholas Sidelnik, 20, a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.

Klugman and Sidelnik finished the Manhattan swim in 7 hours and 20 minutes.

Kayackers and motor boats guided and protected the swimmers.

Water temperatures averaged 62 degrees on a mostly clear day until a rain storm occurred during the end of the swim.

"We first started because of 9/11. Seven Holy Cross graduates died," said swimmer Mike Toner, an alumnus of the Massachusetts college who completed the course with five other alumni in a relay formation in eight-and-a-half hours.

"Last year year we swam for them, and then this year we're just going to continue. I hope we do it every year," he said.

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