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Marathon Aces Lobby FINA For Change

Dec 1, 2010  - Craig Lord

A vast shoal of world-class open-water swimmers, including the king and queen of open water in the past decade, Thomas Lurz (GER) and Larissa Ilchenko (RUS), have called on FINA to re-write the rule book of their sport in the wake of Fran Crippen's death in a 10km race in Fujairah, UAE, on October 23.

A letter and 11 rule-change proposals is signed by 59 swimmers (with more yet to sign the commitment to change), including a host of Olympic and world champions and medal winners and world cup podium placers. Among the signatories are Jan Wolfgarten and Angela Maurer (GER), Melissa Gorman (AUS), David Davies, Cassandra Patten and Keri-Anne Payne (GBR), Spiridon Gianniotis (GRE),  Martina Grimaldi and Simone Ercoli (ITA), Vladimir Dyiatchin, Evgeny Drattsev (RUS), and from the US, Eva Fabian, Emily Hanson Emily Brunemann, Mark Warkentin and Christine Jennings, whose own harrowing account of events will form part of the independent inquiry in Crippen's death being conducted in the US.

The American distance ace, who told his coach Richard Shoulberg shortly before the race in which he died, that he had "gotten good rest ... and never felt better", lost his life in water temperatures of more than 30C (surface heat was said to be much higher, the race held at high noon an a boiling hot day in the gulf) at an event where safety measures fell well short of expected standards, according to just about everyone you talk to who was there on the day.

The list of 11 rule-change proposals submitted to FINA speak much to events on October 23 but extend to other areas of deep concern among those who tour the world on the open-water circuit. The issues would have been familiar to Crippen himself: he had written to FINA and USA Swimming highlighting some of the problems before his premature passing as the first athlete ever to die in FINA competition.

The swimmers' demands: 

  • a lower and upper limit to water temperatures of 18-28C; 
  • better monitoring and guidelines in pollution and water quality to safeguard health when selecting venues; 
  • a ratio of safety boats to competitors of 1:1, as existed in the first world titles FINA race back in 1991; 
  • the use of transponders with a GPS tracker; 
  • standardisation of race buoys, feeding pontoons, finish funnels and touch pads; 
  • standardised procedures for technical meetings, with emphasis on safety; guaranteed use of pools for training in the days leading to races; consideration of climatic conditions before races begin;  
  • abolishment of the rule dictating that swimmers must race in the final event of the season to capitalise on their year-long efforts; *
  • "quality accommodation and appropriate quantities of quality fresh and healthy food" at events;  
  • a geographic order to events in order to reduce the costs and efforts of globetrotting (the latter is an issue that was dealt with on the race pool world cup circuit a while back)

* - the suggestion to drop a requirement to race the last race of the season is all the more poignant on a day when FINA released its changes to the Open Water calendar, including ending both its world cup marathon series and its open water grand prix at meets in Dubai (UAE), the scene of Fran Crippen's death. The dates for the Dubai events are not yet scheduled but holding anything in waters close to where Crippen died within a year of his death may be a date too far for many in the sport.

After setting out how they would like their sport to be run, the athletes conclude: " ... we wish to express to FINA our concerns as elite, World class athletes. We are an Olympic sport and not an extreme sport. We look forward to being involved in a consultative process in helping to improve the safety, health and well-being of everyone involved in our sport."

The documents below speak for themselves, first the letter to FINA, then the proposals:

Dear FINA Bureau,

Please find enclosed the rule change proposals for the future of open water swimming, together with signatures of swimmers who agree with the proposed changes. As you can see in the attachment, this addresses the rules covering the whole structure of world level races organized by FINA. We hope that competitions will be held in a more professional manner and with a higher level of security than they are currently.

Please review these proposals in the spirit in which they have been written, to help to improve our sport. We hope that you will be able to confirm them for the coming season. We do not want to be misunderstood, but the tragic event in the open water swimming World Cup final event of the season shocked us all and we no longer want to take part in competitions without proper standards. 

Despite the fact that open water is a sport where competitors are dependent on climate change, we believe that it is always possible to find a compromise between attractive races and to satisfy safety and quality standards for the contestants. 

We would like to see that our proposals are confirmed for the 2011 season, and we are also keen to show that we care deeply about our sport and its development.

We look forward to hearing from you soon,

Best regards, In the name of all signed swimmers, (lead by Thomas Lurz and Rok Kerin)


After the tragic events in Fujairah, we the undersigned would like to present some proposals for rule changes and make some suggestions, which we hope will help to make marathon swimming safer for competitors.

Our main reason for writing this letter is that for some time the vast majority of swimmers have been afraid for their safety and health. We want to compete fairly and to swim in conditions that are appropriate, for elite athletes competing in an Olympic event.

We, the undersigned swimmers present the rules that we want to be considered. We think that these rules are necessary for the future of our sport, and we would urge FINA consider these conditions. We would like to see FINA approve these rule changes for the 2011season and it goes without saying that we expect all race organisors to observe these rules and provide all the necessary actions for the maximum safety of the swimmers. 

a. Temperature 

Our opinion is that there should be a limit for warm and cold water. We would be happy for FINA to seek expert guidance, on the effects of both cold and warm water on the human body for prolonged periods of time. As a starting point we would like to propose a range from 18 - 28 degrees Celsius. 

The temperature should be measured in the company of a randomly selected coach, swimmer and delegate in three places on the course of each marathon the day before the race and checked again on the day the race. 

b. Water quality 

We would suggest that FINA takes guidance on water quality at proposed race venues. Different Countries have very different attitudes to pollution and quality.  Water quality reports for marathon venues should be officially confirmed by international health organisations. We would also suggest that air quality is tested as our health and safety must come first.

c. Rescue boats

The ratio of safety boats to competitors should be 1:1, and this must be checked by the FINA delegate. If safety boats are insufficient the delegate must have the authority to cancel the race.

d. Transponders

Swimmers should wear transponders on both wrists at all competitions. These could be the same transponders for each marathon and provided from FINA by the delegate at each marathon. The transponder should contain a GPS tracker to follow the progress and pin point the exact location of each swimmer. 

e. Finish, buoys, feeding pontoons and finish funnel

Race buoys, feeding pontoons, finish funnels and touch pads should be standardised.  The same size and color buoys at every event, fixed (anchored) feeding pontoons clearly marked, clear finish funnels and official FINA sanctioned Omega or similar touch pads. Marathon swimming organisation must become more professional.

f. Technical meeting

Coaches and swimmers must get all the information about the race and the safety at this meeting. There needs to be a clear and concise standardisation of what is said at the technical meeting. The FINA delegate MUST follow this.

g. Swimming pool 

A swimming pool for training must be assured for every day of the official stay. There should be enough lanes available to allow World class swimmers to train effectively.

h. Marathon date and start of the race

The climatic conditions MUST be considered when organising events in Countries with extreme changes. Also the time of day for the race start and finish must be taken into consideration, to ensure that swimmers are not racing in potentially dangerous conditions.

i. Final marathon of the season

The rule about completing the final race MUST be abolished.

j. Accommodation

World class swimmers expect and deserve quality accommodation and appropriate quantities of quality fresh and healthy food. The room sharing system, employed at many races does not allow for World class preparation and should be stopped. 

k. Calendar

It is not rational or financially sustainable to have to travel from Continent to continent and then back again during the season. Races need to be organised in a sequential manner, close together. For example: Races in Brazil and Mexico should follow each other.

In conclusion, we wish to express to FINA our concerns as elite, World class athletes. We are an Olympic sport and not an extreme sport. We look forward to being involved in a consultative process in helping to improve the safety, health and well-being of everyone involved in our sport.

End of Proposal.

Meanwhile, FINA has restructured the Open Water calendar and today released the following statement:

Lausanne (SUI) December 1, 2010 - FINA has re-scheduled its 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup in 2011, which will have its first race in April (in Santos, BRA), in order to provide the necessary time for the FINA Task Force in charge of investigating the causes and circumstances of the tragic loss of open water swimmer Fran Crippen (USA), on October 23, 2010, at the last leg of the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup in Fujairah (UAE), to finalise its work and for the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee and the FINA Bureau to consider the respective findings.

The 2011 FINA Open Water Swimming season will start on January 23, with the initial race of the Grand Prix in Rosario (ARG, 15 km). This circuit will have 11 stops in three continents and includes only races above 10km (in which each swimmer has an escort boat).

FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup 2011 Calendar

  • 1. Santos (BRA) April 17
  • 2. Cancun (MEX) April 30
  • 3. Setubal (POR) June 18
  • 4. Lac St. Jean (CAN) July 24
  • 5. Shantou (CHN) September 25
  • 6. Hong Kong (HKG) October 2
  • 7. UAE (city to confirm) Date to be confirmed. 

FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix 2011 Calendar

  • 1. Rosario (ARG, 15km) January 23
  • 2. Santa Fe-Coronda (ARG, 57km) January 30
  • 3. Viedma (ARG, 12 km) February 5
  • 4. Hernandarias-Parana (ARG, 88km) February 13
  • 5. Sumidero Canyon (MEX, 15km) April 23
  • 6. Capri-Napoli (ITA, 36km) June 19
  • 7.Lac St. Jean (CAN, 32km) July 30
  • 8. Lake Magog (CAN, 34km) August 6
  • 9. Sabac (SRB, 19km) August 7
  • 10. Ohrid Lake (MKD, 30km) August 14
  • 11. UAE (city to confirm) date to be confirmed