It has been two years since the Fran Crippen tragedy and the only thing that has been accomplished since then is inaction by FINA and bunch of finger pointing at FINA. USA Swimming came up with some rules but they are still too hot in my opinion. Hence, I am going to offer a solution for determining a safe air/water temp for swimming based on NOAA air temps and humidity.
12-hours before Fran Crippen died he told coach Dick Shoulberg who was at the fateful race that the water is 87-degrees and the air 100-degrees. That is a combined temperature reading of 187-degrees.
Reference: Dick Shouldberg to ABC News two years ago:
[Fran] Crippen had told [Dick] Shoulberg just 12-hours before the race that the outside temperature was 100 degrees and that the water was 87 degrees. Several swimmers complained of dehydration and disorientation and three were taken to the hospital.
Now contrast Dick Shoulberg's quote above to this quote he gave to Associated Press some two-years later:
"Fran was in the perfect storm to die," says his longtime coach, Dick Shoulberg.
I found the recent AP link and the second quote from Shoulberg at the Huffington Post. The article is essentially a rant whereas everyone is pointing a finger at FINA for inaction. It's my opinion that a dynamic individual at USA Swimming, or ASCA, should pull a "Susan Woessner;" (a USA Swimming director who had the good sense to call the police on Rick Curl and get him arrested), figure out what is safe all on their own.
Obviously Shoulberg had no idea that Fran Crippen had just delivered to him the weather report for that "...perfect storm to die" in. Hence, any anguish he feels about that day should be aimed at finding a solution rather than waiting and complaining. Pointing fingers is not a solution. He is the president of ASCA and if FINA or any of the above are not going to do any leg work or the R&D needed to provide safe guidelines than it is up to individual coaches to be trained to green-light their swimmers for these events.
In all honesty, ASCA is an an educational and certification body, why haven't they figured it out? Isn't that the responsibility of a educational institution to be on the forefront of literature and R&D work thereby providing guidelines?
So, if I am going point fingers at that these self-interested old men who run the sport who in my opinion don't want to lead, I offer a water-temp to air-temp ratio solution.
The data is all there, I checked out several kayak forums, news groups and info sites regarding hypothermia and hyperthermia and they have a "rule of thumb" measurement to determine what makes for safe kayaking which I believe a governing body or a coach could use to keep safe body temp wise.
From the New River Campground:
"... One of the biggest risks of river rafting is hypothermia. For dealing with this the golden rule of air and water temperature was developed. The rule is simple, just add the air temperature and the water temperature to get the combined temperature. If the combined water plus air temperature is less than 120, wet or dry suits are recommended. If the combined temperatures are below 100 degrees, wet or dry suits should be required. Here at New River Campground Canoeing and Kayaking we believe in following this rule, and will require you to have a wet or dry suit if you wish to go on the river when the combined temps are below 100 degrees. .."
The "rule of thumb" above leaves the air-temp and humidity out of the equation but they seem pretty reliable as a benchmark from and anecdotal point of view.
I obtained information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who have a solid algorithm scale as to when temps get dangerous. Below is the Heat index chart for air temps.
For instance, today in a suburb of Los Angeles where I live the air temp today will be 93-degrees with 47% humidity. Per the chart above that is border line danger for the Heat Index tells us that it will feel like 103-degrees. Note, extreme caution per the chart above is when the Heat Index reaches 91-degrees.
When Fran Crippen died in Abu Dabai, Crippen told his coach, Richard Shoulberg, before the race that the air temp was 100-degrees and that the water temp was 87-degrees as mentioned above
See the chart above, 100-degrees as an air-temp is bordering upon Extreme-Caution. Even the water temperature if converted to an air-temp with 0% humidity was nearing the Extreme Caution zone. Consequently, all the coaches on the beach and all the swimmers in the water that day had no idea what they doing to themselves. The trouble was that all of the data was available but all of the above were ignorant to the dangers.
Then, a year later a near sequel in Shanghai with near fatal consequences occurred...
From Swimming World:
FINA World Championships, Open Water: Petar Stoychev, Ana Marcela Cunha Win Controversy-Marred 25K Races
"... 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 [88-degrees Fahrenheit.] Again, these recommendations have yet to be codified into the rule books.
Throughout the men's race, 10 more swimmers did not finish the race including an open water veteran like Italy's Valerio Cleri. For the women, four more swimmers did not finish the course including USA's Claire Thompson. Thompson ignored USA Swimming's suggestion that the U.S. not participate in the event, and the team had to let her race due to the Amateur Sports Act. ..."
What frustrates me is that the press nor I paid attention to the air temps at Shanghai. The average temps the time of year when the race was conducted is around 95-degrees. With one fatal race behind us and a second potentially fatal one in Shanghai, it's demonstrable that a combined air-and-water-temp over 185-degrees has proven both fatal and near-fatal.
So where do we go with this and what numbers as a benchmark do we come up with? Here is what I suggest by taking the New River Campground and NOAA's guidelines in the image above and submitting this benchmark as a possible ratio:
New River Campground kayaking Model:
- Air-temp + Water-temp = 100 (Wetsuits or drysuits are mandatory)
- Air-temp + Water-temp = 120 (Wetsuits or drysuits recommended)
Open water swimming suggested model:
- Air-temp Heat Index + Water Temp = 100 (Wetsuits mandatory)
- Air-temp Heat Index + Water Temp = 120 (Wetsuits recommended)
- Air-temp Heat Index + Water Temp = 140 (Choice of swimming attire)
- Air-temp Heat Index + Water Temp = 170 (DO NOT RACE)
To simplify even more: Combined air-temp/water temp is 100-degrees total, to cold to swim, Combined air-temp/water temp is 170, to hot to swim ! In my opinion, this is bullet proof.