Fran Crippen: April 17, 1984 - October 23, 2010

Fran Crippen: April 17, 1984 – October 23, 2010

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

A gentlemen. A hero. An inspiration. Fran Crippen leaves behind a lasting legacy. Not only as a world-class athlete, but as someone you would be proud to have as a son, brother, teammate, neighbor and friend.

Fran was always there for his very close-knit family and for competitors he lined up against. He was always lending an ear and hand to friends. He was always there for his teammates and he always had time for fans and younger swimmers.

On the four-year anniversary of Fran’s tragic death in Dubai, we deeply bow our heads in respect and heartfelt awe of his life and legacy and of his family. It is for very good 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, we recall that FINA 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 strongly believe the true experts in the world of marathon swimming are the swimmers themselves. In our opinion, FINA and other governing bodies around the world should listen and learn – first and foremost – from these experts, the athletes. It is what Fran always wanted and pushed for – and what is right.

Even without medical educations or research experience, it is the athletes who willingly compete in a sport with its inherent risks. Their bodies are THE most practical laboratories for real-world testing; FINA testing should not be conducted in some far-off, undisclosed indoor research facility. The athletes know first-hand what their bodies feel like and what their bodies 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 few hundreds of 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.

Dozens of open water swimmers and triathletes continue to tragically pass away in the open water. Fran was not the only individual who tragically passed away. But Fran, to his credit and as everyone knew, not only lobbied for increased safety for himself. Fran was always unselfishly striving to make those around him and the sport better. 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.

May he rest in peace and may we have the strength to implement his vision.

For background information on the issue of warm water temperatures at FINA-sanctioned events, read the following articles:

* FINA Taking It To The Edge – Part 1
* FINA Taking It To The Edge – Part 2
* FINA Taking It To The Edge – Part 3
* Why 31°C FINA? – Part 4

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones