x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Swimmer Fran Crippen's death in Fujairah race a mystery

Organisers say temperatures normal and marathon swimmer did not ask for assistance but 'we all felt it was too hot' say fellow athletes.

Georgy Evokin, the Russian team manager,  throws flowers into the sea during a memorial ceremony in honour of the American swimmer Fran Crippen who died while taking part in the last leg of the 10km marathon swimming world cup in Fujairah on Saturday.
Georgy Evokin, the Russian team manager, throws flowers into the sea during a memorial ceremony in honour of the American swimmer Fran Crippen who died while taking part in the last leg of the 10km marathon swimming world cup in Fujairah on Saturday.

FUJAIRAH // A professional American distance swimmer died of "physical exertion" while competing in UAE waters on Saturday, the UAE Swimming Federation said yesterday.

Fran Crippen, 26, died while swimming for his country in the Fina Open Water 10km World Cup race in Fujairah. While competitors continued to maintain the water was too warm to race safely, officials rebutted their claims.

Georgy Evokkin, the Russian team manager, said: "Conditions were not so good. The water is very hot, the air is very hot. The swimmers are very upset after this happened."

Water temperatures were at 29°C at 8.30am, according to Fina measurements. It rose to 30°C at 11am as the race began and reached 31°C near its finish at 11.45am.

Divers recovered Crippen's body at a depth of seven metres, 70 minutes after he was reported missing.

According to medical reports released by the UAE Swimming Federation, physical exertion was the cause of death, not heat exhaustion. Ayman Saad, the federation's managing director, said: "Doctors said everything was OK; he didn't have heat in his body."

The UAE has hosted Fina events since 2002, and the temperatures are normal for this time of year, Mr Saad said. "We have a minimum temperature to compete, but we don't have a maximum," he said.

Crippen's assistant coach, Dr Jack Fabian, said the swimmer gave no indication that he needed assistance or felt uncomfortable.

"That's a false story that's been put out," said Dr Fabian, referring to a statement made at the police station through a translator. "It was like every race we've done with Fran. He only indicated that he was thirsty, and that was normal."

Judith Wright, a New Zealand coach, agreed Crippen appeared normal as began his last two kilometres. "He swam past me; he seemed fine," she said. "Other swimmers were struggling a bit too. The water was too hot. Jack got 33°C [on his thermometer]."

Fellow athletes said conditions were the hottest many had ever experienced. "The water was too hot for swimming," said a Croatian competitor who did not want to be named. "It was about 34°C and the air felt like it was 50°C because we were directly in the sun. We all felt it was too hot."

Two female American athletes were taken to hospital because of exhaustion and a male Brazilian athlete was also admitted for high blood sugar. They were released later that night.

Crippen disappeared on a triangular 2km course with 81 swimmers, supervised by six people on Jet Skis, three lifeguards and two coastguard boats.

d Mr Saad said: "We will have to meet with Fina and request more safety. Maybe we will see if there should be less swimmers in the course for open water."

Richard Shoulberg, Crippen's coach at Germantown Academy, is believed to have broken the news to Crippen's family at their home in Pennsylvania.

Mr Shoulberg said: "He would swim through pain every day in training. He just wanted to be an Olympian."

Yesterday flowers were being left at the site of the competition in memory of the swimmer.

An official involved in the organisation of the event said staff had spent time shuttling the event's guests to and from the site since Saturday afternoon's tragedy, where a memorial had been set up in the swimmer's memory.

"It is very sad," he said. "We were taking them to the location, they were putting flowers there in his memory. It's not easy. Everyone has been crying and sad."

Valesijus Belovas, a member of the UAE technical open water swimming committee, said the incident would be investigated and Fina has cancelled Wednesday's 15km race.

Shelly Clark, a close friend of Crippen's from Australia, who arrived on Saturday morning to participate in a later event, said: "He was a real gentleman, well-mannered, and he had a lot of respect for the other swimmers. We are all very close. Because this sport doesn't have a lot of money it means there are no super stars. We travel together, we stay together at hotels and, whether you place first or last, you all jump in the water together and swim 10km."

Dr Fabian said: "He was very generous and one of the most wonderful people I have ever met."

Crippen's mother Patricia said she had dropped him at Philadelphia International airport on Tuesday, warning him to avoid tourist spots in Europe because of recent terrorism alerts.

"He was the love of our lives," she is quoted as saying. "He was just so full of life and enjoyed life so much."

According to the Fina president Julio Maglione, it was the first death at any Fina event. He said the organisation has opened an investigation, but that the race organisers did nothing wrong.

"All was under strict rules that exist in our competition. All was absolutely correct," he said. "It was an accident, a terrible accident."

azacharias@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Leah Oatway