x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Death of US swimmer Fran Crippen was 'a disaster waiting to happen'

The Fujairah open water swimming event in which American Fran Crippen died was "a disaster waiting to happen", according to a report recently published by health experts.

Fran Crippen, the four-time US champion, died of heat exertion during the Fujairah open water swimming race in October 2010.
Fran Crippen, the four-time US champion, died of heat exertion during the Fujairah open water swimming race in October 2010.

DUBAI // The Fujairah open water swimming event in which American Fran Crippen died was "a disaster waiting to happen", according to a report recently published by health experts.

The lack of regulations mandating a maximum safe temperature, plus an apparent lack of supervision at the event itself, may have contributed to the death of Crippen at the Fina open water 10K event in October 2010.

Crippen, 26, the four-times US champion, died of heat exertion during the race and several other athletes were taken to hospital.

"It was a race that was set up to fail, given the air temperature, the heat of the water, and apparently a lack of supervision," said report co-author John Miller, an associated dean in the College of Health at Troy University in the US.

Dr Miller, whose report appears in the August edition of the International Journal of Sport Communication, said part of the reason for the accident was that the sport's governing body had not set a maximum temperature for its open-water events. "We need to have restrictions, we need to identify what is too hot," he said. "Now Fina is starting to ask what the water temperature should be and what the air temperature should be. We will be following this up to see how it progresses."

The temperature was 31°C near the finish of the Fujairah event, according to measurements taken by Fina at the time. The organisation has minimum temperatures of 16°C for its open-water events, and maximum temperatures of 28°C for its pool events. However, there are no maximum temperatures for open-water events.

Ayman Saad, managing director of the UAE Swim Federation, declined to comment on Dr Miller's report, but did say the UAE would follow any new rules from Fina.

Dr Miller said local authorities could largely be absolved of blame for not stopping the race because of a lack of restrictions.

Crippen's father, Peter Crippen, said there was a risk in any open water event, not just in Fujairah.

"I can say that not only that race, but many of the races which Fina sponsored in the world cup circuit, were disasters waiting to happen," he said. "Many were swum in conditions and places that were unsafe."

Peter Crippen said the family had started a foundation to campaign for further safety measures at open water events.

"We are advocating that Fina and USA swimming adopt a maximum water temperature of 28°C and a minimum water temp of 18°C.

"We have also advocated that there should be eyes on all swimmers at all times.

"There should be an accounting of all swimmers at various check points not more that 500 metres apart, and that life guards be assigned to stragglers."

mcroucher@thenational.ae