x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

US swimmer recalls day of tragedy in Fujairah race

An American competitor taken to hospital after event claims there was a shortage of medical help as body of Fran Crippen is returned to his family.

Fran Crippen competes in Pan Pacific Championships at Long Beach in California in August. His family said he had raised safety concerns with Fina, the sport’s world governing body, in the weeks before his death.
Fran Crippen competes in Pan Pacific Championships at Long Beach in California in August. His family said he had raised safety concerns with Fina, the sport’s world governing body, in the weeks before his death.

FUJAIRAH // One of the three swimmers sent to hospital after the race in which American Fran Crippen died said she received no immediate medical treatment following the 10km swim.

American swimmer Christine Jennings, 23, said there was a lack of supervision on the water and a shortage of medical assistance on land.

Crippen, 26, a four-time winner of the event, died of heat exhaustion 400 metres from the finish of Saturday's Open Water World Cup race.

Speaking from her home in Colorado in the United States, Mrs Jennings said: "I had no medical staff around me. The coaches helped me. We didn't get an IV until we got to the hospital."

Crippen's body was expected to arrive in the US last night. The swimmer's father, Pete Crippen, said the family will wait until after the funeral before they begin to address the safety concerns that his son had raised to Fina, the sport's world governing body, in the weeks before his death.

"If we get through this week and lay him to rest on Saturday then we'll address that," Mr Crippen said. "Next week we'll begin to look more and more at the issue of all this."

The head of the UAE Swim Federation, Ayman Saad, denied safety was overlooked and said that the temperature of the water for last year's race was warmer than Saturday's race.

Ms Jennings said she had felt nauseated from the heat 25 metres into the event and battled nausea and hallucinations until the pace began to quicken 8km into the race.

"It was to the extreme where I couldn't tell the difference between the water and the outside air," she said. "It was the strangest feeling. An athlete gets to the point where you can push it up, either step it up another level or step it down another level if it gets really bad. For me, for any athlete, it's hard to give up."

Though Ms Jennings made the decision to back down, she believed Crippen would have pushed on if in the same position. She said she laid on her back and signalled for help for several minutes once she decided to quit the event.

"Nobody came and I'm thinking to myself, 'Why is no one checking on me, I don't understand'," she said. "I was scared. I was looking around and no one had come and then I started getting really fearful."

Ms Jennings struggled ashore with the support of a German competitor and was treated with cold water and towels. Coaches then helped her to an ambulance, where she was given oxygen.

Ms Jennings and her American teammate Eva Fabian, 17, were treated for dehydration, heat exhaustion and fever at Fujairah Hospital.

She said she felt compelled to resubmit her statement when she went to a police station after it was shortened to a few brief lines that omitted her observations on the event's safety.

"All it said was he [Crippen] passed out and drowned. So I said, 'What happened to the rest of my statement?' I made them rewrite it because they needed to know why he died."

The circuit was monitored by two boats, three jetskis and judges, and lifeguards and coaches were present at five stations.

azacharias@thenational.ae