USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study

USA Triathlon (USAT) has released its Fatality Incidents Study, which follows an extensive review of fatalities in triathlon in the US.

As the National Governing Body in the United States, USA Triathlon ‘views the safety of [its] members as a core imperative.’

Event-related fatalities have captured the attention of the triathlon community, raising safety concerns among athletes, family members and other supporters – alongside event organizers, sponsors, community leaders and the medical community.

Over the past several months, USAT has conducted a careful review of the collective experience with fatalities at USA Triathlon-sanctioned events from 2003 through to 2011. The objectives were to attempt to bring clarity, identify potential patterns and underlying causes, and investigate opportunities to make any future improvements in event safety.

A five-member Medical Review Panel was convened, inclusive of three physicians and two race directors with broad experience in triathlon, and particular interest or expertise in the issue of race safety. This group reviewed information for 45 cases and assembled its findings into a preliminary report.

The preliminary report was shared first with the attendees of the USA Triathlon Race Director Symposium in January 2012 and more recently with a Review Group that was assembled to solicit specific feedback. This Review Group included representatives from the broader triathlon community – athletes, coaches, event organizers, risk management experts, and medical professionals.

USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study findings

  • The popularity of triathlon has increased tremendously from 2003 through 2011. In those nine years, nearly 23,000 sanctioned events were held, involving more than three million participants. In 2011, the most recent year reviewed, there were 4,334 events that involved 537,317 participants.
  • There were 45 fatalities during the 2003-11 study period. Included in this group was a single non-athlete spectator who died from injuries sustained in a bike crash and one athlete who died at a USA Triathlon-sanctioned training clinic, both in 2011. Excluding those two deaths, the overall fatality rate for competing triathletes was approximately one per 76,000 participants.
  • The athlete victims included nine women and 35 men, ranging in age from 24 to 76 years old.
  • Among the 43 race-related athlete deaths, five were traumatic, caused by injuries sustained in cycling crashes; the remaining 38 deaths were non-traumatic. Of the 38 non-traumatic fatalities, 30 occurred during the swim, three occurred during the bike, three occurred during the run, and two occurred after an athlete had completed a race.
  • The absolute number of fatalities has increased in tandem with the increased participation rate. This law of averages dictates that, as the sport continues to experience tremendous growth (USA Triathlon annual membership more than tripled between 2003 and 2011), the incidence of fatalities in the sport will likely increase as well.
  • The fatality rate does not appear to be related to: (a) the length of the race; (b) the type of swim venue; (c) the method of swim start e.g., mass, wave or time trial
  • Fatalities were not confined to inexperienced triathletes.



The report notes…
‘As we consider our path toward improved race safety, we envision a framework of shared responsibility, where athletes, event organizers, and USA Triathlon each play an important role.’

A chart on pages 11 and 12 of the USA Triathlon Fatality Incidents Study outlines this framework.


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