Dick Pound leads Fran Crippen probe

Updated: November 10, 2010, 2:29 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Former World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound has been appointed to lead a commission established by USA Swimming to investigate open-water swimmer Fran Crippen's death in a race last month.

USA Swimming said Tuesday that the group will gather information and compile a report by March recommending improved safety protocol for races such as the one in the United Arab Emirates, in which Crippen died.

The report will be submitted to the federation and to FINA, swimming's world governing body, which sanctioned the 10-kilometer race in Fujairah that was the final event of the eight-event World Cup marathon series. FINA is also conducting its own investigation.

Crippen's sister Maddy, a former Olympic swimmer, said Wednesday that USA Swimming has kept her family informed of its progress in assembling the panel. She said her parents and two sisters are "grateful and appreciative" of those efforts.

The family will conduct a separate inquiry "for our own sanity,'' Maddy Crippen said. "We've retained the appropriate people to do that.''

The outspoken Pound, a Canadian attorney with extensive executive experience in international sports, was an elite swimmer who competed in the 1960 Olympics, where he was a finalist in two events.

"An athlete should never lose his or her life in a sport competition, but when such an incident occurs, it is the duty of the sport community to conduct a thorough and complete review of the situation and factors that may have caused or failed to prevent such a tragedy,'' Pound said in a statement released by USA Swimming.

He added that the report will be "transparent" and directed at ensuring that there is never a repeat of the circumstances that led to Crippen's death.

Other experts named to the commission include:

• Sid Cassidy, a former head open water coach for the U.S. national team who currently oversees the aquatic program at St. Andrews School in Boca Raton, Fla.

• Omaha Sports Commission president Harold Cliff, a veteran events organizer who has staged numerous world-class swimming competitions.

• Dr. Scott Rodeo, an orthopedic surgeon who has served as a physician for two U.S. Olympic teams, several U.S. national swim teams and the NFL's New York Giants.

• Erica Rose, a 10-time U.S. open water champion who has also won gold medals at the world championships and Pan American Games.

Crippen, 26, of Conshohocken, Pa., one of the top athletes in his sport and a 2012 Olympic hopeful, drowned just 400 meters from the finish line of the 10-kilometer race on Oct. 23. His family is still awaiting the results of an autopsy conducted after his body was returned to the United States several days later.

Other athletes in the race struggled in water temperatures estimated in the high 80s and said there were not enough boats or personnel to monitor the more than 80 swimmers competing in men's and women's races that began five minutes apart on the same course. Another American swimmer, Christine Jennings, said she felt ill and tried to call for help but got no response.

Race organizers did not notice Crippen was missing until his friend and fellow U.S. competitor Alex Meyer alerted them. But it was Meyer, not race officials, who led swimmers in a search -- a sequence verified by several other swimmers who were present.

The rescue divers who eventually recovered Crippen's body did not arrive until close to two hours later, according to Meyer and others.

The tragedy has prompted calls for FINA to set a maximum water temperature for open water competitions and to mandate more safety vessels and monitors. At most 10-kilometer races, coaches deliver food, water and sports drinks to the athletes from floating "feeding stations," but they cannot see the entire course from that vantage point.

Maddy Crippen said her chief concern is that new safety measures are implemented before the next open water world cup marathon series begins in January in South America. Crippen said she will advocate for USA Swimming to have officials on site who can make their own judgment about whether conditions are safe for athletes.

She added that she does not think swimmers from the United States or anywhere else in the world should compete in open water world cup events until their safety is guaranteed.

In the meantime, a number of top U.S. swimmers are slated to compete in the FINA short course world championships next month in Dubai -- a potentially awkward situation so soon after Fran Crippen's death in the UAE. Pool events have far higher standards for safety, and Maddy Crippen said she is certain the team will have the necessary staff in place to ensure a safe competition.

"My greatest honor, and my brother's, was to compete for our country -- there's no greater feeling than to hear your name announced with 'United States' in front of it,'' she said. "I would never want to take that opportunity away from an athlete.''

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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