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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Be Safe, Not Sorry

Tom Kean of Henley Swim, commented on the issue related to the maximum water temperature of FINA-sanctioned open water swims (that can allow up to 30 minutes of competitive swimming above 31°C).

His father was a technical delegate for Formula One, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) in motor sports. He used to visit teams and oversee the crash testing of their cars.

Back in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, there were many tragic deaths in Formula 1 that under reflection were avoidable. The governing body in that era did little to improve driver safety. It was only after a sustained effort by a few individuals that things started to slowly improve according to Kean.

Drivers would compete with whatever rules were in place at the time with little apparent concern for their own safety,” explained Kean. “In the early years, there were scant rules in place. In other words, drivers needed to be protected from themselves as the urge to compete exceeded concerns for their own safety. The desire to go faster and win was their only focus and they were willing to die for their sport.”

Kean, an avid sportsman, explains this mentality. “I have been at the ragged edge myself occasionally. I’ve done a few cycling sportives on the [European] Continent. In the heat of the moment and close to complete exhaustion, I’ve been quite ‘happy’ to cycle at full speed into a pitch black tunnel, risking death or serious injury, rather than slow down. The same mentality can be applied to most sports people I suspect, so if a swimmer is permitted to swim in 31°C or above, most will despite knowing it’s not safe. Rules need to be imposed, even if unpopular or expensive, as most will swim either way given half a chance.”

While his viewpoint addresses the risk-taking mentality of young, elite professional swimmers who compete on the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup and FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix, his perspective is occasionally seen at the amateur level and among solo swimmers. “I’m pretty sure the same mentality applies at the start of some swims. People will do anything to gain an advantage. To most swimmers, [their race or their swim] is their Olympics and they’ll do what they can to get ahead, to improve their time even if it’s unsafe. I’ve experienced it first-hand myself. The melee at the start is often a scary and dangerous place. We spend a lot of time and effort mitigating this risk as we recognise the problem, but it’s something we expect to evolve over the years with a view to improving the safety at starts.”

Related articles to this issue include the following:

FINA Taking It To The Edge - Part 1 is here.

FINA Taking It To The Edge - Part 2 is here.

FINA Taking It To The Edge - Part 3 is here.

Why 31°C FINA? - Part 4 is here.

USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study is here.

New South Wales Maximum Water Temperature Rules are here.

Survival Swimming In The Outer Limits is here.

Photo of the Henley Swim by Iain Weir. “The photo illustrates the point above about trying to spread people over the whole width of the river and encouraged swimmers away from the front. It’s all part of our efforts to minimise the risk of injury at the start.”

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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