Ask The Experts, Fran Crippen Was One Of Them

Ask The Experts, Fran Crippen Was One Of Them

On the one-year anniversary of Fran Crippen’s death in Dubai, we bow our heads in respect and awe of Fran’s life and legacy and of his family. It is with obvious reason that the Crippen Family is rightly called the First Family of Swimming in the United States.

Thinking about what Fran had been lobbying before his death for FINA-sanctioned and FINA-officiated races, our unyielding position on safety in open water swimming has not changed.

In meetings with FINA and governing bodies, decision-makers have always pointed out that they must consult with experts in the field first to determine safety standards. In their opinion, experts are medical professionals and researchers.

In contrast, we believe the experts in the world of marathon swimming are the swimmers. In our opinion, the experts with whom FINA and other governing bodies should listen to first and foremost are the athletes. It is what Fran always wanted and pushed for.

Even without medical educations or research experience, it is the athletes who willingly compete in a sport with inherent risks. Their bodies are the most practical laboratories for real-world testing; not some far-off research facility with test tubes and syringes. The athletes know first-hand what their bodies feel like and can withstand under extreme conditions.

There are approximately 250 athletes every year who compete in professional marathon swims on the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit and the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix series. There are another 50 or so athletes worldwide who do at least two marathon swims every year. These experienced athletes – swimmers who have done dozens and dozens of swims around the world in myriad conditions – are the real experts. Their collective wisdom and body of cumulative knowledge are second to none when it comes to understanding how the human body can and does react while marathon swimming.

In contrast, it is unlikely for medical professionals and researchers to know well the physiological stresses that marathon swimmers go through under extreme conditions unless they are an open water swimmer or coaches themselves.

To know first-hand as an athlete or to see first-hand how athletes handle extreme conditions after hours in the open water should be a requirement to be considered an expert by FINA and other governing bodies.

While certain physiological conditions can be replicated, implied, assumed and tested in laboratory conditions or relative to comparable tests with land-based athletes, the actual physiological conditions that marathon swimmers face under inhospitable conditions are extraordinarily variable. Every marathon swimmer knows this, either as a result of intensive training or swimming a grueling race.

Furthermore, when a dangerous situation occurs during an open water swim, the time to get the athlete to proper medical care is always longer than what is available to land-based athletes. This additional time to care (i.e., evacuation from the offshore course to a medical facility on land) should be taken into consideration when FINA or its experts devise their standards.

Dozens of open water swimmers have died worldwide over the last two years. Fran was not the only individual who died in the open water. Fran, as everyone knew, not only lobbied for himself. Fran was always unselfishly striving to make those around him and the sport better.

In an earlier commentary on this situation (see here), the key point was for FINA to listen sincerely to the swimmers’ opinions and seriously consider their recommendations.

That is what Fran asked for before his death.

He is looking down on us to see what we are doing with his simple, wise and reasonable request.

Copyright © 2011 by World Open Water Swimming Associationa
Steven Munatones