x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Swimmer Fran Crippen's death may see sport alter rules

Investigation into open water swimmer's death is needed for rapidly growing sport, say officials, as complete revision of safety for athletes is planned.

FUJAIRAH // The rules of open water swimming could be transformed by the investigation into the death of Francis "Fran" Crippen at a World Cup race in Fujairah last month.

The investigation by USA Swimming, America's governing body for competitive swimming, will include a complete revision of rules and safety protocol and an open invitation for all involved in the sport to provide feedback.

John Dussliere, the head coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club and men's open water coach for the US Olympic Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said: "It's going to completely change the way we race.

"It's a sport that's been around for a long time, but at this level it's in its infancy. We really have to make some big adjustments."

Rules have not kept pace with the quality of athletes that the sport has attracted since it became an official Olympic event in 2008. Crippen, 26, was favourite to be the first American medallist in the sport in the London 2012 Olympics, but he died of heat exhaustion a few hundred metres from the end of a 10km race.

Dussliere said weak rules had placed athletes in danger. "There's been an increase in the quality of athletes, and these athletes are not likely to hold back because the water is warm or cold," he said.

"What's really great about open water swimming is that the greatest competitor may be the elements, but we have to be careful what elements we send them into."

Ayman Saad, the head of UAE Swim Federation has repeatedly stressed that the race met all of the regulations of Fina, the world governing body for swimming, and was approved by their officials.

However, the death of the four-time US champion left swimming officials across the world calling for stronger, clearer regulations.

Mr Saad said: "We have to change our rules because our sport is growing. Before, when we organised the World Cup, it was 25 or 30 swimmers maximum, and now there are more than 80."

Fina has launched a separate investigation into the death. Dussliere predicts that the USA Swimming investigation will set specific rules on the number of hydrating stations and craft on the water.

"None of these concerns are new," he said. "We have to have the base standards that are absolutely black and white, without grey areas. If those can't be provided, we can't have the race that day. You can't compromise on the athletes.

"No good is going to come from Fran Crippen's death, but what we owe the athletes that come after him is we can never let them be in a situation where that can ever happen."

azacharias@thenational.ae