A Reasonable And Realistic Path Forward By USA Triathlon

In the recently released USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study, USA Triathlon’s 5-person expert commission members laid out a reasonable and realistic set of recommendations.

They described their recommendations as A Path Forward. This is their Path Forward verbatim:

Triathlon is not unique among sports activities. Indeed, our experience with event-related fatalities—and, particularly, the issue of sports-related sudden cardiac death—shares many important similarities with the reported experiences in other athletic settings. As we go forward, we must continue to learn not only from our own experience but also from the scientific and broader athletic communities as new, pertinent information becomes available.

Although event-related fatalities may be uncommon, the safety of athletes participating in USA Triathlon-sanctioned events is a paramount concern and deserves our every attention. However, as we discuss strategies to improve race safety and reduce the number of event-related fatalities, there is no obvious “silver-bullet” solution based on the available data.

This includes the fact that detailed autopsy information was not available for review during this study. We do, however, acknowledge previous scientific reports on the autopsy findings in triathlon victims that have shown cardiac abnormalities (e.g., mild left ventricular hypertrophy with ventricular wall thickness of 15-17 mm, coronary artery anomaly) in the majority, with no other explanatory cause for death.

During the course of this study, post-event investigations and analysis showed that none of these unforeseen fatalities were deemed to be the result of unsafe conditions at events, improper rules or policies, or negligence/oversight on the part of the event organizers. At this time, the Review Group makes no recommendations to alter, strike or supplement any current USA Triathlon rules, guidelines or policies.

Instead, the key to success is to attack the issue on a broad front, adopting a host of strategies that, together, might reasonably be expected to prove helpful.

As we consider our path toward improved race safety, we envision a framework of shared responsibility, where athletes, event organizers, and USA Triathlon each play an important role. The following chart outlines this framework.

For more information and insight on this issue, we encourage you to visit the online blog of Lawrence Creswell, MD, the leader of this study, at www.AthletesHeart.blogspot.com. Dr. Creswell is a specialist in Cardiac Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.


Steven Munatones, a member of the Review Board of the USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study, asked, “What can the open water swimming community learn from the efforts of USA Triathlon? They identified a problem and addressed the myriad issues as best they could – as a first step. There are valuable lessons to be learned from our endurance sports colleagues.

In 2011, over 150 interested and experienced open water swimming representatives from around the world gathered in San Francisco, California to discuss open water swimming safety. It was an excellent first step in the open water swimming community. Physicians, lifeguards, event safety personnel, administrators, race directors, and swimmers of all abilities, ages and backgrounds assembled and shared their stories and experiences.

Annually, the various topics of safety are addressed at the Global Open Water Swimming Conference. But there should be much more. 2013 will undoubtedly see additional opportunities for public input on how to enhance the safety of a growing sport.

The cumulative and collective wisdom of open water swimming resides among its frankly very educated and experienced community, from Dover to Melbourne, from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro. A global sharing of this information on how to minimize the inherent risks in the sport is absolutely vital to the continued healthy emergence of the sport of open water swimming. The answers should come from WITHIN the community as the triathlon world has set forth to do.”

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Steven Munatones