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Why swimming is particularly deadly for triathletes

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Those participating in triathlons have to be in tip-top shape and go through plenty of training to get there, so why is it that the most fatalities occur during the swimming leg of the competition? Last Sunday, two competitors died of cardiac arrest during the Nautica New York City Triathalon, a sixty-four-year-old man and a forty-year-old woman, but why during the shortest leg of the race?

According to cardiologist Kevin Harris of the Minneapolis Heart Institute, who examined almost 3000 events over a two-and-a-half year period, a number of factors could account for the particularly high fatality rate during the swimming portion.

While at first I was surprised, it does make sense for a number of reasons: first, the adrenaline surge and pure number of athletes entering the water at the same time; second the fact that I suspect many athletes come from a background in running or other sports and may be less adept at swimming; third, swimming in a triathlon is totally different sport than doing some laps in the pool due to variability of extremes of waves [as well as] people swimming around you and on top of you; fourth, the inability to rest properly if needed (or call for help) as you could do in the marathon and bike [segments]; and, fifth, the difficulties in being noticed if the swimmer is in trouble due to the number of athletes in a body of water, which is not transparent. I think these are some of the factors that are related.

In a situation where time is of the essence when it comes to saving one’s life, swimmers are most likely to experience a delay in treatment.

It should be noted that triathlon fatalities are rare considering the number of participants, but organizers are looking for ways to make races safer for at-risk groups.

Full story at Scientific American.

Surviving a triathlon.

Photo credit: Fotolia

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