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Officials at USA Triathlon are heightening safety measures in the wake of swimming deaths.
The deaths of two athletes stricken by cardiac arrest in the Hudson River during the New York City Triathlon on Aug. 7 have focused attention on the dangers of the open-water portion of such events.
Officials at USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in the United States, said Friday that heightened safety measures were continuing “to be discussed and evaluated,” but that no changes were imminent.
Nevertheless, the dangers, mostly related to the stresses of breathing in open water amid a mass of swimmers, have long been known to triathlon coaches. And their training of triathletes incorporates ways to cope with an environment not found in the neat confines of a pool.
“What do you do if you hyperventilate?” said Neil Cook, the head multisport coach with Asphalt Green Triathlon Club at the Asphalt Green amateur sports center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “What do you do if your goggles come off? If you bump into a boat? If someone swims over you? If any of these things happen in the open water and you’re not prepared for it, you can panic and can get into real trouble.”
A 2010 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 13 of the 14 deaths in triathlons from 2006 to 2008 took place during the swim legs. Autopsies on nine of the victims found that seven had heart abnormalities, which researchers think were exacerbated by the stress of swimming in open water.
The risk of sudden death in a triathlon is 1.5 deaths per 100,000 participants compared with 0.8 deaths per 100,000 participants in a marathon.
“So many things can go wrong in an open-water swim,” Dr. Stuart Weiss, the New York City Triathlon medical director, said last week. “There’s some combination of water, adrenaline, pushing yourself hard, and all these things somehow work together to put people into an abnormal heart rhythm.”
Autopsies were inconclusive on the man and the woman who died after being pulled from the 1,500-meter swim, the first leg of the New York City Triathlon.
Read more: The New York Times