Thomas Lurz rips race conditions

Updated: October 25, 2010, 9:07 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A day after U.S. national team swimmer Fran Crippen died during an open-water race in the United Arab Emirates, the winner of the event said the water and air temperatures were too high to hold a competition.

Thomas Lurz of Germany criticized both swimming's governing body and race organizers Sunday, saying conditions were too hot for racing, that FINA's schedule was too grueling and that organizers should have done more to ensure swimmers' safety in the Open Water 10-kilometer World Cup held at Fujairah, east of Dubai, on Saturday.

The 26-year-old Crippen, from a family of prominent swimmers in suburban Philadelphia, failed to finish and was found in the water two hours later, about 400 meters from the finish, organizers said.

Fran Crippen
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-MillsAmerican open-water swimmer Fran Crippen, 26, died during an event Saturday near Dubai.

Crippen's sister said he had for months been voicing concerns to the sport's officials about insufficient safety at such open-water races.

"My goal is to talk to everyone who was there and to hear exactly who was there and what safety measures were there," Maddy Crippen told "Good Morning America" on Monday.

"But the one thing that I do know is that in the months leading up to this event my brother had written letters to different organizing committees about safety, the number of people that were there, the doctors that should be there, the support staff and the lack thereof," she said.

FINA's president said Sunday that "overexertion" led to Crippen's death and FINA had launched an investigation into the tragedy.

"What we know initially is that he exerted himself more than he could, that's what we know," said FINA president Julio Maglione of Uruguay, attending an International Olympic Committee conference in Acapulco, Mexico. Maglione said he was told that after eight kilometers Crippen informed his coach that he wasn't feeling well.

Race officials said a medical report and autopsy on Crippen had been completed, but declined to release their full details to the media.

Swimmers complained of the warm water temperatures, but Ayman Saad, executive director of the UAE swimming association, played down heat as a factor, saying that the water temperature was 84 degrees at the start of the race, which was held in the ocean on a triangular 2-kilometer course behind a breakwater.

All safety measures were in place including lifeguards, boats and divers, Saad said, adding that FINA had signed off on everything before the race started.

Usually at open-water races, a boat follows the last swimmer on the course.

"What I think happened is that the swimmers were in various groups. This is what I heard," FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The AP. "On the last feeding station the coach was talking to him. But I really don't know. We have to wait for the investigation and then we will come up with our position on this. Otherwise it's only speculation."

Lurz insisted temperatures must have been above 86 degrees and that several swimmers suffered due to the heat. He said he talked to many swimmers who complained of swollen fingers and toes, water loss, and he saw several who had become confused following their race.

"The water was amazingly hot," Lurz said. "Nobody thought such things like yesterday could happen. ... It shows it was really just too hot. It was not just one swimmer. There were many swimmers who had serious problems in the water."

FINA's rules place no limit on how warm water can be to hold a race.

Besides Crippen, three other swimmers -- two U.S. women and one Brazilian -- were taken to the hospital. All were to be released by Monday. Their names had not been officially released, but included Brazilian Allan Do Carmo and American Eva Fabian.

Maglione maintained that organizers followed FINA's rules.

"Apart from the investigation, we are awaiting a report from our technical director, who says that everything was normal according to the regulations," Maglione said. "They told me ... the medical report said it was huge overexertion, that's what they told me."

Gunnar Werner of Sweden, a member of FINA's legal commission and a former FINA honorary member, will lead the investigation and was to arrive at the race site late Sunday.

"When he finishes his inquiry we'll put out our position," Marculescu said. "We understand that they have the medical report in Arabic and they will translate it to English and send it to us. Probably tomorrow we will have it in the office.

"This is a swimmer with a lot of experience. He was a fantastic guy and he came from a big swimming family. We've never had something like that happen in our sport before. I'm sorry for him and his family."

Crippen was the silver medalist in the 10K at the Pan Pacific championships in August, earned a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2009 world championships, was national champion in the 5K in 2009, and won a gold medal in the 10K at the 2007 Pan American Games.

Crippen finished fourth in the 10K and fifth in the 5K at this year's world championships.

Lurz, a nine-time open water champion, said Crippen's death highlighted the need for changes within the World Cup circuit, including setting a maximum temperature and easing rules that require a swimmer to finish the final race to gain points crucial to moving up the rankings and earning prize money.

Lurz speculated it was probably Crippen's desire to finish the race that cost him his life.

"I'm sure he tried everything because he is a sportsman ..." Lurz said. "He would never give up."

Swimmers were the first to respond when Crippen failed to arrive at the finish. Several returned to the water to search for him and were soon followed by police and coast guard divers. Crippen's body was found just before the last buoy on the course, race organizers said.

Crippen was rushed to shore and transported to Fujairah Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"It was unacceptable that swimmers were searching for another swimmer. That is horrible. This can't be," Lurz said. "Swimmers go under water in seconds. There need to be more boats, jet skis, canoes who can take care of every swimmer."

Swimming officials in the UAE canceled the 15km open-water event that was scheduled to be held Wednesday at the same location.

The 10K race is the only open-water discipline that is an Olympic event, having made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Swimmers and officials gathered at the race site Sunday and held an impromptu memorial service. Many had tears in their eyes and some veterans such as Angela Maurer of Germany openly wept in the arms of her husband.

"It was our way of saying goodbye to a friend and fellow competitor," Lurz said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.