Friday, July 22, 2011

FINA conducts open water marathon in hazardous conditions!

2011 FINA World Championships, Shanghai: A 25k open water championship took place today in water temps hovering around 86-90-degrees.

Even pool temperatures are not safe at that temp especially for elite swimmers who generate higher core temps then normal.

FINA & USA Swimming have proven conclusively that swimmers come last. In fact, so much so that all the promises about rules, safety and follow through post the Fran Crippen death in Dubai was nothing more than a "dog & pony show."

From Swimming World:

This all takes place against the backdrop of the death of Fran Crippen at the UAE stop of the FINA Open Water 10K World Cup less than a year ago in October 2010. Calls for rules to enhance athlete safety were met with a slew of recommendations from two separate commissions (FINA, USA Swimming), which included a recommended maximum temperature of 31 degrees Celsius. Again, these recommendations have yet to be codified into the rule books.


So Swimming World is as outraged as they should be. Even Associated Press was astonished:

From Associated Press:

"... Italy's Edoardo Stochino was pulled from the water 4 hours, 50 minutes into the race and taken away on a stretcher as officials poured cold water over his chest. Thomas Lurz of Germany withdrew and defending champion Valerio Cleri of Italy withdrew after four hours, saying it was "too hot and too dangerous" to continue. ..."


The American team here is wearing "FC" on their warmup suits in memory of Crippen.

Where were the USA Swimming coaches during this fiasco? Where were all the world's coaches? Hello? Anybody home? to wit: When has a national governing body been a bastion of trust and honesty? The coaches should have unionized right there on the spot.

I heard that even Steve Munatones, former FINA open water official who was "canned" after complaining that FINA really has some work to do regarding open water safety, was asked to be an ad hoc lifeguard because the situation escalated that quickly.

From Reuters:
Six swimmers, including Germany's Thomas Lurz, who won the 5-km race and took silver in the Olympic-qualifying 10-km race, did not even start the men's race, while nine withdrew during it. A total of 35 had entered the race.

"... A Reuters witness said the German team had tested the water temperature at the dock, and said it had reached 32 degrees.

They said the maximum temperature allowed to compete is 31 degrees and there were complaints from other teams that officials should have stopped the race. ..."


If I was a swimmer in that race and I ended up on the business end of an "IV needle" so as to hydrate my body, and next to me in that emergency room were other swimmers who were sick, overheated and in mortal danger I would effect change!

Obviously the death of Fran Crippen was absolutely no inspiration at all for something to be done at the governing body level so as to improve safety in an open water race. Hence, the only way to get national and the international governing bodies to pay attention is most likely the courts, both civil and legal.

If I was a sickened swimmer after attempting that race I would sue in civil court for bodily and emotional injury. If I had a family member die in that race I would call for a criminal investigation to punish those that allowed that unintentional homicide.

What is amazingly frustrating about governing bodies, they want as few rules as possible when it comes to health and welfare of the participants. We are seeing that with USA Swimming's child protection policies; (i.e. No one-on-one coach/swimmer contact which they won't implement), and we are seeing it with open water policies as well.

No safety rules means no rules they can inadvertently or intentionally violate and that means no lawsuits or criminal investigations like I am suggesting.

It is time for athletes to loudly call for change in a venue these people can definitely understand - the only place they can understand: The courtroom.

Fran Crippen? who was Fran Crippen?


Anonymous said...

Actually, saltwater freezes at a lower temperature and has a slightly lower heat capacity so it should "feel" a slight bit cooler. Regardless, that is very very hot. Move the race to a cool lake!

Tony Austin said...

You are right. I am making the corrections now.

Anonymous said...

The rules that are in place are a big joke anyway. Violators "may" or "can" be disciplined, but never "will" be disciplined.

The people "with power" are able to manipulate the rules to fit their needs, regardless of the effect on others, knowing d-well they will not be disciplined!

Tony Austin said...

...And it wouldn't surprise me if they have the swimmers sign a release, and, to add insult to injury, a life insurance policy on each competitor so they can collect.

Granted that is hyperbole but we have to ask, what is it that National Governing Bodies, and even FINA, what do they do for the swimmer at large besides event plan swim meets?

Anonymous said...

Tony, how dare you write your article and imply that USA Swimming has forgotten about Fran Crippen. You have just insulted hundreds of athletes, coaches, and officials, and in your rant against USA Swimming, you have just crossed a very precious line.

If you had bothered to talk with ANY American at the race before writing this, you would have learned that the American staff highly advised their swimmers not to compete because of dangerous conditions; however, because the Amateur Sports Act guarantees American athletes the right to compete, they could not deny Christine the right to participate.

Fran Crippen was very near to the hearts of all of the USA Swimming open water officials, coaches, and athletes in China, and the fact that you think that we would just blow off his death is about as insulting as one could get. There isn't a day that any of us do not think about Fran.

While you have made it very clear that you do not like USA Swimming, keep in mind that USA Swimming consists of thousands of good people who are athletes, coaches, officials, and others. We are a family, and we lost a very precious family member last year. If the purpose of your article really is to raise awareness of FINA's apathy, then either leave USA Swimming out of it or report the true actions that the USA Swimming staff took yesterday; don't you dare imply that we have forgotten about Fran Crippen because that tragedy is something that we live with every time on of us touches the water.

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction was the same as above. It seems like everyone in the swimming community lately just picks their least-favorite person/organization, and blames every possible problem on them, regardless of the facts. This race was a FINA issue, not a USA Swimming issue...

Tony Austin said...

Anonymous! How dare I?, HOW DARE I?

First off, I dare you to identify yourself. If you can't or are unwilling then there is a paragraph in this rebuttal below that probably explains why.

Second I am not going to let you frame the debate that I am anti-coach, staff, or even US Swimming Members.

If the USA Swimming coaches on the beach cannot control what their swimmers do when they are at an event, then why have a team at all? Why not just let them show up as individuals then much like what I do when i enter an open water race?

The coaches should not have let their swimmers swim. I suspect there was some sort of undue influence involved that made it difficult for them and/or threatened their careers to do so. (Case in point Steve Munatones who suggested FINA has some work to do and was later canned.)

In boxing the corner can throw in the towel to end the fight despite the boxer's refusal to quit.

In baseball (MLB) a coach can forfeit a game per rule 4.16 - 4.17

The water was dangerous and if the coaches on the beach have the power to protect their swimmers then they should have acted. If they couldn't then that has to be talked about.

All of the worlds coaches should have unionized that day and I suspect they will all be the first to be blamed by the governing bodies.

99.999% of USA Swimming s filled with fantastic people, it's the less than .001% that is running the place that I have issues with. Major issues and so do the athletes and coaches who have to watch what they say and/or do unless their career takes a hit.

You know that and I know that for a fact.

Tony Austin said...

I appreciate your comments but I see a trend here.

If FINA screws up, the next in charge is to do what then; allow the debacle to continue especially when it involves human assets?

We had a team on the beach and that team included a decision maker.

Jim Russell said...

It has nothing to do with USA Swimming regulations. It's a policy enacted by congress called the Ted Stevens Act. USA Swimming STRONGLY encouraged their athletes to withdraw from the 25k (and it sounds like they did everything they could do without breaking the law - reports make it sound like they were putting serious pressure on the athletes not to compete), but ultimately the athletes must be allowed to compete, per the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, which was enacted by Congress. It exists to KEEP organizations from overstepping their bounds and pulling athletes from races for political reasons. It's the reason why the #2 finisher at Olympic Trials gets to swim, even if everyone knows there's someone that will swim better than them at the Olympics.

Obviously there wasn't enough FINA pressure on these athletes to keep Anderson and Myers in the race, so that argument is off the table. Thompson was given every bit of information, but it was ultimately her decision, it has to be, as the law states.
FINA should have rescheduled the race. USA Swimming could not have done anything other than what they did to make their athletes withdraw. Rip into FINA all you want for this issue, but USA Swimming did nothing wrong in this case.

I hope you read this whole thing before deflecting and ignoring the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act and what it says.

Give the criticism to FINA that is due to FINA, and that which is due to USA Swimming to USA Swimming, but do not confuse the two. If you blame FINA problems on USA Swimming, it waters down some of the valid complaints you have against them.

Name included, so that you don't discount me just for using an "anonymous" tag.

Jim Russell said...

Also, your boxing and baseball examples are irrelevant. They are not subject to the same laws because boxers and baseball players always have another option to compete. Swimmers, runners, and other organizations that have been granted monopoly rights over Olympic sports wouldn't have a choice. If an official decided they can't compete, then they can't compete. Thompson can't "fire" USA Swimming. A boxer can fired their corner man. A baseball player can request a trade or play in a different league.

Really, you of all people want to give USA Swimming that kind of authority?? To unilaterally pull athletes from races??

Reiko said...

The US team could only advise the swimmers not to compete. As a result, every swimmer but Claire Thompson decided not to race. As Anonymous said, the Amateur Sports Act gives the athlete the right to compete against the wishes of their coaches. I would argue, in this case, that the US coaches did as much as they could to prevent their athletes from entering a dangerous situation. Ultimately, each swimmer had the right to choose for him/herself.

Tony Austin said...

I will look up the Ted Stevens act and comment. I find it unlikely that that is a line in it that suggests athletes can veto their coach though.

Tony Austin said...

As for my boxing and baseball references - it's the rules that should allow coaches to pull athletes and file a protest. If FINA won't follow the rules than the swimmers and coaches should enforce them.

I am not buying this autonomy you suggest athletes have.

Tony Austin said...

I am looking for that item in the Ted Stevens act - then I will comment back, Reiko

Anonymous said...

"USA Swimming urged its athletes to pull out of the gruelling, five-six hour race after the water was measured at 30.4 degrees Celsius by 5:30 am. Two withdrew but Claire Thompson, 22, decided to ignore the recommendation.
However, Thompson was forcibly withdrawn mid-race by officials who chased her down in a boat and ordered her to stop swimming. She appeared unhappy at the move."

picture included

As mentioned above, the Amateur Sports Act means that athletes have the final word on whether or not they want to compete. Giving that power to the governing body or the coach would be extremely problematic.

Tony Austin said...

Here is a link to the Ted Stevens act straight from the US Government:

I read the text and apparently you both have highly exaggerated your claims - see "athlete participation sections:

Sec. 220503. Purposes: (i.e the purpose of the NGB - this has nothing to do with an event.)

8) "... to provide swift resolution of conflicts and disputes involving amateur athletes, national governing bodies, and amateur sports organizations, and protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official to participate in amateur athletic competition; ..."

Section 8 is all about participation in the national governing body and the subject of amateur competition and to resolve conflict if a coach, trainer, athlete, etc. etc is denied the right to compete. That in itself passively states that a governing DOES have that kind of control by caling it an "opportunity" not a right.

See next section:

"Sec. 220522. Eligibility requirements:" (To preface it: The requirement is a subsection of who can participate in the sports organization at large. Stuff about race, color creed, the usual human rights requirement)

"... provides an equal opportunity to amateur athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, administrators, and officials to participate in amateur athletic competition, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin, and with fair notice and opportunity for a hearing to any amateur athlete, coach, trainer, manager, administrator, or official before declaring the individual ineligible to participate; ..."

Obviously this is in regards to resolving both prejudice and/or legal issues such as crime, or ability.

If anything, the governing body is granted the authoritarian right to who gets to participate. BUT if an athlete, coach, or member has a beef, he can have a hearing to work it out - not veto the governing body to get their way.

There is no evidence for your buck passing.

The Ted Stevens Act really has nothing to do with Coach/Athlete rules. You both took a piece here and there and made it something it isn't.

Next time quote your references.

Tony Austin said...

Anonymous, thank you for that link - the first paragraph amd illustrated what rights a coach does have:

From AP:

"... SHANGHAI — US officials forced a swimmer out of the 25km marathon over safety fears Saturday as soaring temperatures prompted angry complaints and a swathe of withdrawals from the world championships' event. ..."

Ted, evidently coaches can throw in the towel.

Jim Russell said...

Sec. 391 (b) (6) requires each national governing body to provide an amateur athlete with “fair notice and opportunity for a hearing (i.e.-due process) before declaring such individual ineligible to participate in amateur athletic competition.”

Also, from the USOC charter, which is a byproduct of Ted Stevens

"No member of the corporation may deny or threaten to deny any amateur athlete the opportunity to participate in
the Olympic Games,
the Pan American Games,
the Paralympic Games,
a World Championship competition, or
other such protected competition as defined in Section 1.3 of these Bylaws..."

Sweet Law & Order legal skills, but as is per the usual, your legal knowledge is not as extensive as you'd like it to be.

This is the part where you're proven wrong, get very defensive, and really dig your heels in. I presume there's no chance of you rescinding your comments about USA Swimming at this point.

Tony Austin said...

I think I made my opinions regarding USA Swimming quite clear.

I also have long history of admitting errors and publishing comments that call out my mistakes. In fact look at the first comment to this post. My only regret is that I did not thank the person.

When Fran Crippen died and USA threw some ad hoc rules well before FINA. I acknowledged that; In fact here is what I said:

"...So far USA Swimming is the only governing body to suggest clear rule changes such as specific water temps, GPS, and such but USA Swimming isn't the rule maker for FINA. These are just demands..."

As for your interpretation of the Ted Stevens ACT: I find it demonstrably weak. So weak that published evidence suggest otherwise.

From Associated Press:

"... SHANGHAI — US officials forced a swimmer out of the 25km marathon over safety fears Saturday as soaring temperatures prompted angry complaints and a swathe of withdrawals from the world championships' event. ..."

So answer me this, Jim, did USA Swimming deny her rights to compete by removing her from the water? The answer is YES!

Why is it they can remove her from the water but can't prevent her from swimming in the first place? Call that the corner throwing in the towel for the boxer.

Since we have documentation of a coach withdrawing a swimmer against her will, I suggest you take your heels out of the dirt.

When facts are proven wrong, I will change and I will acknowledge those changes but it takes facts, not insults.

Anonymous said...

I believe there's a difference if a swimmer is pulled out before the race and during the race. From my understanding, Thompson was struggling, which contributed to the decision to try to get her out. As the race progressed, the water temperatures rose (6am start, finish hours later), exceeding the temperature limit on some thermometers. That may have been enough justification to "convince" her to get on the boat. Based on what I've read, I believe USA swimming acted appropriately and did the best they could to protect their athletes during this incident.

Tony Austin said...

She denies it but now I suppose we have to concede there is somewhat of a gray area.

Reductio ad absurdum exercise: If there were sharks off in the distance could the race be held? If the sharks were circling could coaches pull the swimmer out?

The answer is apparently yes to both which is indeed absurd.

(The sharks represent hot water -the circling sharks represent elevated temps.)

Anonymous said...

Tony, no is making up a random interpretation of the Amatuer Sports Act to support their argument against your comments in a blog post.

That interpretation of Ted Stevens has been in place for years, created the current Olympic movement, and set up the structure for pretty every national team across every Olympic sport.

Tony Austin said...

Then explain to me, or show me precedent as to why a coach can end a race for an athlete but they can't prevent an athlete's from engaging in a race that takes place in hazardous conditions.

Those two situations when place side-by-side seem to be contradictory.

Anonymous said...

The Ted Stevens Act also states' "to provide SWIFT resolution of conflicts & disputes & protect the opportunity of any amateur athlete to participate in amateur athletic competition".

This is a Federal Law that is ignored by USA Swimming on a continual basis.

It seems that the laws and rules are manipulated to fit the needs.

TedBaker said...


Mr. Russel and "Rieko" did provide you the interpretation of the Ted Stevens Act that stipulates that a National Team coach can advise but not order. The fact that you didn't like the explanation doesn't mean it's not valid.

Two other points:

1.) Pulling an athlete in distress is not the same as advising an athlete not to participate. I'm not of the legal principles involved but even a cursory examination of issue, using a simple application of "common law" illustrates the difference.

2.) If, in fact, there were man-eating sharks in the water and FINA sanctioned the race, then - as per the Ted Stevens Act - a National Team Coach could advise but not force. That's the law.

Tony Austin said...

Like Jessica Hardy and Tara Kirk. Tara should have been in Beijing, huh?

Talk about a slow resolution.

Tony Austin said...

I think that snippet is complete stretch and requires too much interpretation. The Ted Stevens Act is nothing more than a rulebook for the establishment of Governing Bodies not a rule book for athlete/coach relationships.

I am astonished none of you can see that much like you and the others are astonished that I can't see your point of view.

Telling me I am wrong is not going to change my mind. Showing me precedents, rulebook entries would.

BTW. Childrens Hospital Los Angeles got a $275 check

TedBaker said...

Good on you for the cheque!

And, fyi, I'm not astonished that you disagree. In fact, I'm not surprised at all.

I'd imagine any athlete and their lawyer could challenge the current interpretation of the Act and, maybe, they'd get a different ruling. That's the beauty of the system.

As it stands, though, the current view that a National Team Coach can advise but not force is the law. The law may, indeed, "be an ass" but it is the law.

Jake said...

Outraged may be too weak of word... Americans need to boycott!

Bill Ireland said...

Interesting issue. I have a couple opinions. First, I think that athletes over 18 should be allowed to make their own decisions whether to compete. Even if it is a poor decision and a dangerous one. It sounded to me like the USA swimming personnel advised the swimmers not to race and almost all made the decision not to race. That's as it should be in my opinion.

I would not want a coach to make that decision for me, or for my daughters if they were racing. I would want them to advise and recommend--and I'd have an opinion also but I don't think that the Coach should make that decision unilaterally unless the swimmer is in trouble in the race and is incapable of deciding---in shock or dehydration or hypothermia, etc.

Second, I suspect that FINA doesn't listen to any national federations and probably has a reluctance to listen to USA swimming for institutional reasons. The real disgrace of Shanghai is that FINA even started the race in those conditions. The first chance they had to consider swimmer safety after the tragedy of Fran Crippen, they chose to ignore the rules that were adopted so recently and at such great cost. It should have been FINA who stopped the race and not the individual swimmers who had to decide what to do. It must be incredibly hard after years of training and competition and with Olympic qualification at stake to choose not to race. The winner is still going to be the world champion even if the field is reduced. The winner is still going to be in London in 2012(I think).

I don't know what the answer really is in these circumstances--maybe FINA should drop its safety rules if they are not going to enforce them and just have everyone sign a release and take their chances. That would not be safer but at least it would be more accurate than having a rule on the books that is not going to be followed.

You do wonder how FINA could have been surprised by the conditions. It should be predictable. I understand the desire to keep the open water race close to the pool site but they could have found a lake or something some distance away and planned the events better. I'm weak on Chinese geography but I'm sure that there are parts of the country that have cooler water--even the ocean.

Bill Ireland said...

For another point that I don't understand, the USA swimming rules on permitted competition temperatures has two high end standards. One test is that the water cannot be hotter than 31 C (87.8 F). The other test is that the combined temperature for air and water cannot be higher than 63 C. If the air was 93 (33.9 C), which at least one website says for Shanghai that day, the water temp could not be greater than 29.1 C (84.4 F). I may be off slightly on the math and on the Shanghai air temp but it sure seems like the conditions were way outside the safety zone.

Tony Austin said...

I think you right. Example: The Alcatraz Sharkfest organizers canceled a race last year due to fog.

FINA is afraid to cancel anything

Anonymous said...

I know not to lump everyone at FINA into FINA (we do have some vocal, active members, one of whom I believed was removed from FINA because of his stance on OW safety), but the people who pull the strings in FINA really only care about dollars. It's unfortunate since they are affecting thousands of humans who have dedicated their life to pursuing their dreams.

Since FINA controls World Champs, it would take a group of countries to start an alternative group/ championship, similar to USA Swimming coaches forming the NCSA. Unfortunately for our Open Water athletes, as of now the only way to get to the Olympics is through FINA's World Championships.

So how do we make a change?

Tony Austin said...

Well, I certainly do not want George Block or John Leonard to be part of any replacement.

A pro league is the way to go. Don't even try to replace FINA. Just start something that is more better and different in my opinion.