In the wake of two deaths during the swim open-water swim leg of the 2011 New York City Triathlon, race directors will now requiring all participants to sign a waiver indicating that they have swum at least a half-mile in open water in the 18 month period preceding the 2012 event or that they will swim this distance before race day.  On race day, they will be required to sign an additional waiver verifying that they have completed this requirement.

This marks the latest step that triathlon officials have undertaken in an effort to ensure the safety of the ever-dangerous open water swim leg of the sport.  A 2010 study published by the American Medical Association Journal indicates that 13 of 14 triathlon deaths occurring between the years of 2006 and 2008 occurred during the swim leg of the race.  Experts believe that the stress created by the open-water swim often serves as a significant contributing factor in these tragic deaths. 

At first glance, the open-water swim waiver would seem to be a step in the right direction.  However, it is by no means sufficient to ensure the safety of the event.  Even assuming that participants comply with the waiver requirements and swim the required distance prior to the race, it is impossible to recreate the stressful conditions that they will encounter on race day when they will be entering the water alongside as many as 150 participants.  For this reason, it remains essential that race directors implement a rigorous water safety plan allowing them to quickly identify distressed swimmers and respond instantly.  In the absence of such a plan, we will continue to see the number of triathlon deaths rise as the sport grows in popularity.

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed during a triathlon competition, contact the experienced attorneys at Stark & Stark for legal advice.

Ian Abovitz is a member ofStark & Stark’s Yardley, PA office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Abovitz.