Comments on "Deaths In Triathlon" post

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Anna Freuler said: First of all this article is incomplete and therefore not helpful to both active triathletes and athletes new to the sport. I think it is important that we always consider the hazards of a sport and look for ways to make it safer – especially when there is a rising trend in sport related deaths and a growing number of participants to the sport of Triathlons. Obviously it is no longer considered an elite athlete event. Many young people and old people alike are trying the sport for the first time – and this could be related to the rising trend in race-day related deaths. However, this attorney, Landau seems annoyed that someone would even question the relevancy of the incidents – which makes me question his role with USAT – and perhaps my membership with USAT too. Also, there is a major problem with his reasons for why this should not be a big deal and that is ignorant statement about the 1,000+ race day USAT memberships – for one, most USAT members have to re-register with USAT if they forgot their membership card on race-day, which greatly increases the number of USAT members and therefore skews the actual numbers of sport related deaths to # of members. I will agree that there are a lot of athletes associated with USAT – hands down it is a growing sport and USAT has done a wonderful job cultivating its popularity. But, we should not disregard or ignore the problems with the sport and the unnecessary hazards. The fact that there have been any deaths let alone 8 in less than a year should raise concern in the organization and the community! I can’t speak to the actual details of each death (I think that should have been included in this article) but I have participated in many events and I know the swim can be quite dangerous even for strong swimmers. Perhaps one way to improve safety is to provide more regulations and rules around the swim portion of the race, like time-spaced entry into the water, grouping by age group instead of only gender and skill level, and requiring more safety personnel in the water to identify struggling swimmers. Providing more detail around tri-course difficulty with a rating scale to discourage new athletes from taking on “too much”, or perhaps making the more difficult races qualify entry only – like Kona. Regardless of how “small” the number of deaths may be, the fact that there have been any should be a concern to all!
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Anna: You raise some interesting and valid points. See tomorrow’s post, as there are additional links and information.

As far as safety concerns, I also agree that putting like-skilled swimmers in the same heat may make more sense that doing it by age group. Especially when there are groups participating not as competitive age groupers, but for charities (like Team In Training), where being together in their matching uniforms and cheering each other on creates esprit de corp and lessons the liklihood of a Team in Training fundraiser is run/biked/swum over by a highly skilled/competitive age grouper. I also remember the day when you needed a thorough pre-season physical exam from a medical doctor before you could participate. Perhaps requiring a USAT member to start with a sprint before going to Olympic Distance, and then Olympic before half Iron man, etc., like the skier’s “GLM” method would help to keep participants from taking on too much too soon. With USAT membership, such information could be stored and verified.

With regard to the USAT, I have no position with the national governing body. I am just an age group member like you. I am also concerned that there are any deaths at all in a sport in which I have been a participant, volunteer and spectator. And I appreciate race directors who have cancelled the swim or bike because of dangerous conditions, or made the run “un-timed” because of the heat index. Lastly, while the precise manner of death was beyond the scope of the posting, some of the other comments reveal other race and training fatalities. Again, thank you for your comments. Doug Landau
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David Flynn said: Why does this surprise anyone?

Since we now have a whole separate league of triathlons for women only – large numbers of newbies (often 50% of the field) are entering the race course who have self excluded from the regular ranks of full paced co-ed competition.

I frankly doubt that it is the veterans who are dropping dead in marathons, triathlons and other ultra endurance events. More often than not, it is the unprepared weekend athlete who wanted to prove something or lose weight in one massive effort. Someone who shouldn’t have even entered the race.

I believe that as promoters struggle to increase receipts – we will have MORE of these sorts of events that place the less well prepared in the middle of a challenge that they realize was a mistake halfway into an open water swim.
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Doug said: Trip, See tomorrow’s post. I would have thought that the leading cause would have been bike crashes, followed by heart attacks while running in the heat. But, according to the NYT article (see link), swimming seems to be the culprit. As I myself have had several “anxiety attacks” when starting the swim in cold water, I have now learned to take extra precautions to prevent re-occurrences. I will address these in a later entry, but suffice it to say, I now start wide to one side or another, and note where the lifeguards, surfboards and rescue boats are situated as well as where the directional buoys are located. I also double cap and wear a long-sleeved (and legged) wetsuit, for warmth, as well as buoyancy. doug

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