x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US releases open-water swim guidelines after death

US swimming authorities have released a list of open-water swimming guidelines for competition in response to the death of Fran Crippen at the end of a 10-kilometre race

FUJAIRAH // US swimming authorities have released a list of open-water swimming guidelines for competition in response to the death of Fran Crippen, who died of heat exhaustion at the end of a 10-kilometre race last October.

The recommendations say that no race of more than 5km should be held if the water temperature exceeds 31°C or if the combined air and water temperature added together are greater than 63°C.

The US commission also made specific suggestions for tracking and monitoring swimmers, and called for clear water-to-land communication channels.

"We are confident that the recommendations we've made reflect an increased concern for safety at these events, and that they do so without paralysing the sport," said Dick Pound, the former International Olympic Committee vice president who led the commission that investigated the circumstances surrounding Crippen's death.

"What we've produced is a sensible programme of action that will significantly reduce the potential for this sort of tragedy to occur in open-water swimming again."

Water temperatures were 30°C at 11am on the day Crippen, 26, raced in Fujairah, and reached 31°C near its finish at 11.45am, according to measurements by Fina, the world swimming governing body.

Open-water swimming was introduced as an Olympic sport at the 2008 Beijing Games. Natalya Pankina, who swam the English Channel and represented the Russia Federation in open-water events from 1998 to 2009, said that regulations must be in place because athletes would always push themselves.

"There are a lot of people asking 'why didn't Fran stop?'" she said. "When you race, you are feeling bad, you are feeling pain, but you don't want to stop yourself. It was really at his heart. It was at his mind. You know he was doing his best."

Ms Pankina, who lives in the UAE and previously competed here for Russia at World Cup events, said GPS tracking should be mandatory for all races but that changing temperatures made it difficult to set maximum temperature limits.

"Minimum it can be, but maximum you can just judge from the beginning. When you're swimming 25km, you cannot stop the race after three hours," she said. "I don't think they can fix temperature. It is open water. It is not a swimming pool and even in a swimming pool people die from heat."

The US recommendations are in line with a plea for tighter guidelines made by Ayman Saad, the head of the UAE Swimming Federation, in the days following Crippen's death. However, the US recommendations do not apply to Fina and would therefore not necessarily be required at Fina events in the UAE.

The federation said Mr Saad was in Egypt and could not be reached for comment.

azacharias@thenational.ae