While the sport of triathlon continues to increase in popularity, the significant dangers presented by such events remain.  Triathlons have proven to be far more dangerous than other similar sporting events.  Various studies have estimated the risk of sudden death during a triathlon to be nearly double the risk of death associated with participation in a marathon. 

This increase in deaths is widely believed to be a consequence of the numerous risk factors associated with the dangerous open-water swim leg of the triathlon event.  A 2010 study published by the American Medical Association Journal shows that 13 of the 14 triathlon deaths between 2006 and 2008 occurred during the swim leg of the race.  Autopsies of nine of these victims confirmed that seven had pre-existing heart conditions that were likely exacerbated by the stress of the open-water swim. 

The bottom line is it is very difficult to effectively prepare for the stress created by an open-water swimming event, many times with over 100 participants entering the water at the same time.  This is especially true for individuals participating in their first triathlon.  As a result, it is of the utmost importance that race directors institute an adequate water safety plan to ensure the safety of all participants. 

A proper water safety plan should include a system allowing race officials to instantly identify and respond to a swimmer in distress and to quickly verify that each swimmer has emerged from the water.  One important aspect of any water safety plan is ensuring that an adequate number of experienced, well-trained lifeguards are positioned appropriately throughout the swim course.  In addition, race directors must take steps to quickly account for swimmers as they emerge from the water.  This can be accomplished in many ways including an electronic timing system serving to check every participant in as they emerge from the water and vigilant monitoring of the bike coral to ensure that each participant has retrieved their bike in a timely manner.  If an adequate water safety plan is not in place, it is utterly impossible to identify and retrieve a distressed or missing swimmer quickly enough to save their life.

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.