USA Swimming announced earlier today in a press release that the four swimmers slated for the open water events at the 2017 World University Games (WUGS) had elected as a team to not make the journey to Taiwan and compete. The reason? High air and water temperatures.
Due to the extreme temperatures, the athletes and coaches arrived at the consensus that it would be safer and healthier for them not to compete. They withdrew their athletes from competition on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.
Coach Tyler Fenwick, who was at the helm of the U.S. open water contingent travelling to Taiwan, explained to Swimming World,
We were packed and ready to leave for Taiwan, and then I got a call the night before the morning we were supposed to leave, and it was from Bryce Elser. He said, ‘Look, here’s the deal. I just talked to Lindsay Mintenko—she’s on the ground—and it isn’t looking good.’ We monitored it, and finally they decided it might be best if we just waited. And then we got confirmation on Tuesday that we would not be racing. And that was the athletes’ decision. It was the athletes’ decision not to race. Athlete safety is the No. 1 concern of United States swimming. In this case, it was up to the athletes, and they decided as a team that they would not compete in these conditions.
But while the U.S. contingent will not be competing this upcoming weekend, the race is still on. According to FINA rule OWS 5.5 the temperature of the water cannot be below 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 F) and cannot rise above 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 F). However, USA Swimming’s top limit is 29.45 degrees Celsius (85.01 F).
Coach Fenwick continued his explanation of the U.S. decision, expressing concern over the potential of the race still taking place,
As far as I know, the race is still on. There was a little bit of cooling, so it could be under the FINA limit. The biggest issue is, how do you recover after the race with the air being that hot? And what if there is an issue and an athlete has to come out of the water? They’re not going to be able to cool off and acclimate quickly, and that was one of our biggest concerns, and that was one of the biggest concerns of the athletes that were going to be competing.
I’m proud of my country for supporting them. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for the United States to put safety first and to consider the athletes before the competition. Medals are important, and medals are a big deal, but athlete safety is 1000x more important.
This is not the first time in 2017 that open water temperatures have reached critical heights at a competition. This past spring at the 2017 Asian Open Water Swimming Championships, the temperature of the 10K race reached a high of 31.9 degrees Celsius (89.42 F) before the start of the race, over FINA’s own limit. The race was not cancelled and Team Japan elected to pull their team from the event, placing the safety of their athletes ahead of the medals at stake.
How long will it be until officials and the governing bodies of our sport ensure that all athletes are competing in safe temperatures?
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.