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USA Triathlon Releases Fatality Incidents Study

  • By Susan Lacke
  • Published Oct 29, 2012

After much anticipation, the 14-page USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study has been released to the general public. After five triathlete deaths in the summer of 2011, including two at Nautica New York Triathlon, the sport’s governing body created a task force to investigate the safety of the sport.

The five-member Medical Review Panel, consisting of three physicians and two race directors, reviewed data from 2003 through 2011 to identify patterns and possible strategies for preventing deaths in triathlon. During that time, 43 athlete fatalities were recorded during a race event, of which 5 were considered “traumatic,” caused by injuries from a cycling crash; of the remaining 38 deaths, 30 occurred during the swim, three took place during the bike, three during the run and two after the completion of the race.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated triathlons are twice as deadly as marathons. With an overall rate of one death per 76,000 participants, the USAT study deemed triathlon’s fatality rate to be similar fatality rate to United States marathons (1 in 75,000).

Though detailed medical history and autopsy findings were not available for each case, USAT inferred that most triathlon-related fatalities were caused by sudden cardiac death. Fatality rates do not appear to be influenced by the length of the race, method of swim start (mass, wave, or time trial start), and previous triathlon experience (or lack thereof). An analysis of course conditions determined unsafe environments or negligence on the part of event organizers did not play a role in any of the deaths.

Additionally, USAT did not find enough evidence of deaths caused by Swimming-Induced Pulmonary Edema (SIPE), a popular theory in news media outlets and triathlon discussion forums. However, the panel advises that athletes err on the side of caution and seek assistance if experiencing “unusual or unfamiliar shortness of breath while swimming.”

Other USAT recommendations for athletes include:

- Visit a doctor for a physical examination, with an emphasis on heart health, before participating in the sport.

- Create a race plan consistent with health, fitness and preparation.

- Properly prepare for open water swimming prior to race day.

- Make sure all equipment works properly.

- Learn CPR and be prepared to use those skills when needed.

- During the event, stop at the first sign of a medical problem, including chest pain/discomfort, light-headedness or unusually high heart rate.

For the full report, click here.

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