Are swim triathlons in the U.S. getting any safer? Each year, hundreds of athletes train for this rigorous event, which takes place around the U.S. However, there have been many high profile accounts of participants — who are otherwise seemingly in great health — dying during the race. During the past eight years, in fact, there have been 55 triathlon deaths. The swim leg of the triathlon, frequently the deadliest stretch, accounts for all but eight of these deaths.
This August will be the busiest part of the 2014 triathlon season, and there have already been several changes made in order to hopefully avoid some of the injuries, accidents and deaths that have cropped up during previous races. So far, two triathlon participants have already died this year — both in the swim leg of their races. Both are suspected to have had underlying cardiac conditions.
One of the biggest changes has been the establishment of water temperature guidelines for all events sanctioned by the USA Triathlon, the sport’s national governing body. The minimum and maximum temperatures were developed by a task force before the new season started up. USA Triathlon is also collecting information on current races, documenting things like how many participants had to be rescued, and how many had to be examined by medical personnel, in order to craft better guidelines for future seasons.
Dan Ingalls, a swim coordinator for Ironman events, is advising the USAT on an unpaid basis this year. He hopes that the sport will streamline its approach to safety, saying that volunteerism has been a good start for the sport, but that it has created a somewhat “haphazard approach” to safety. “As an industry, we have to accept the higher price tag of professionalism,” he says.