Why is the Swim the Most Deadly Leg of the Triathlon?

[Multiple news sources, August 11, 2011] The death of two athletes in Sunday’s New York City Triathlon, both of whom were pulled from the water during the swim, is raising questions about whether that leg of triathlon can be made any safer.

The only other death in the race’s 11-year history also occurred during the 1,500-meter swim leg. And a study published as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010 found that of 14 deaths recorded in USA Triathlon-sanctioned events between Jan. 2006 and Sept. 2008, 13 died during the swim.

The NYC race this year used small staggered wave starts so that only 15 or 20 athletes were starting the swim at the same time. But many races feature group starts, with everyone hitting the water en masse “and a lot of athletes swimming at the same time,” says Kevin Harris, lead author of the JAMA study and a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

The story was also covered in the Wall Street Journal.

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