Fran Crippen
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
BARCELONA, Spain, July 18. EVEN with the open water community saying the proposed maximum is still too hot, the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee has passed the recommendation of FINA President Julio Maglione to institute an open water maximum temperature of 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit). This news comes to us by way of one of the committee members.

Yesterday, the proposed limit came under fire why Swimming World correspondent and founder of Open Water Source Steven Munatones detailed just how hot 31 degrees still is. While it is commendable that two-and-a-half years after Fran Crippen's death in a FINA open water race in the United Arab Emirates that the organization is finally instituting a hard-and-fast maximum temperature instead of a guideline up to each meet organizer, Munatones and many of the top minds in open water swimming still believe 31 is too hot.

Take into consideration that FINA regulates pool swimming temperature to be between 25 and 28 degrees Celsius, and that pool performances often start to deteriorate even at 27 degrees Celsius, the new maximum may not help eliminate the chance of another FINA-sanction open water swimming death.

Here is an excerpt of Munatones' column, putting what 31 degrees Celsius is in perspective:

Putting 31C Into Perspective

To put 31C in perspective, imagine a swimming pool at 85F (29.4C). Even at 82F (27C), performances in the pool start to suffer. At those temperatures, coaches around the world constantly hear complaints that "the water is too hot" from their swimmers. Coaches use aerators and move workouts to the early morning or evening to avoid pool temperatures that are too warm as a result.

Now imagine doing 100 x 100 on an interval where you get very little rest in a pool where the water is 85F (29.4C) on a humid, cloudless day. Every swimmer knows how tough that is, especially if they only hydrate every 30 minutes like open water swimmers usually do? Any coach can easily imagine problems with heat stress among his athletes under those conditions.

Now imagine if the temperature of the pool was 87.8F (31C)...for a race. Not a workout, but a competition.

Now add to this increasingly hazardous situation the well-known fact among open water swimmers that the temperature of fresh water always feels cooler than the same temperature of salt water. That is, 80F in fresh water does not feel like 80F in salt water. The fresh water feels cooler. Flipped around, the salt water feels WARMER. That is, 80F in fresh water feels more like 82-83F in salt water depending on the amount of solar radiation.

So essentially that 87.8F in a fresh water pool feels more like 89-90F in the ocean, sea or estuary. Swimmers around the world know this.

Now imagine racing 5,000 meters or 10,000 meters or 25,000 meters in 89-90F. Pool swimming coaches would not stand for it; parents would complain; and athletes would -- out of pure physiologically necessity -- purposefully slow down and complain until the coach relented.

This is what is happening in the open water world when FINA allows competitions up to 31C.

In a few countries around the world, when a maximum water temperature is reached, the race is stopped. No questions asked. Danger identified. Danger documented. Game over. Swimmers go home. The safety of the swimmers is not breached.

In contrast with the current FINA rules, the water temperature is monitored at one-hour intervals during the race. That is, if the water temperature exceeds 31C during those one-hour intervals, the race is not stopped. The race continues. The swimmers are expected to continue racing until the next hourly temperature check. Only then is the race stopped. The safety of the swimmers - and all the safety of the swimmers around the world who will be expected to race in 31C water - must be the highest priority of any race director, coach, and governing body.

This is what Fran Crippen fought for in his all-too-short life.

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