As you may well know, the New York City Triathlon has endured more than its share of tragedy. Just this past year, two athletes died during the swim portion of the race (you can read about them here).
As part of their actions to make the race safer, recently the organizers of the race announced that going forward each athlete will be required to sign a waiver that they have swum at least a half-mile open water race during the preceeding 18 months. The thought is that by having this prior experience in open water, swimmers will be safer. People will be used to swimming in open water and no future deaths will happen.
If you believe that, I’ve got some pristine swamp-land I’d be happy to sell you.
In my opinion, asking athletes to sign a waiver that they have previously done an open water swim is nothing more than a lawyer-approved C.Y.A. maneuver. A signature on a piece of paper does not a safe swim make. But it does make the prospects of the race organizers drowning in a sea of lawsuits much more palatable.
So what would make a safer triathlon swim?
Frankly, there’s lots of things. Smaller start waves. Time trial starts. More lifeguards. An in-water start (especially for cold-water starts like the NYC Tri). Arm floaties. Fins. Trolling motors attached to folks’ arses. Newbie-only waves.
Let’s face it, the triathlon swim is well documented as the “hardest” part of the race. More fatalities occur in this portion of the race than the other two. While the proximate cause of these deaths is often difficult to determine, there are likely multiple causes, hence curing the ills will be difficult.
Signing a waiver certainly isn’t going to fix the problem of athletes drowning in triathlon.