2 competitors have died after the conclusion of the Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin triathlon last weekend in Madison. Both athletes died in the swim portion of the event, which continues to be by-far the most dangerous portion of a triathlon.
38-year old Todd Mahoney, a firefighter with the Madison Fire Department, was found unresponsive in the water on Lake Monona on Saturday morning. About an hour earlier, 61-year old Michael McCulloch was also found unresponsive in the water.
Both men were transported to a hospital. McCulloch was declared dead shortly after arriving, while Mahoney was in critical condition for 2 days before eventually dying on Tuesday. Both men are believed to have suffered ‘medical events’ in the water, with the medical examiner declaring McCulloch’s death a drowning as a result of a medical event.
A week earlier, a 59-year old man died in the swim portion of a triathlon in neighboring Jefferson County.
According to a 2016 study by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, deaths and cardiac arrest during triathlons is not all-that-rare. After reviewing data from about 9 million triathlon participants in a 31-year period, statistics they found:
- About 1.7 deaths per 100,000 people occur in triathlon
- The majority of those deaths and cardiac arrests occurred in men who were middle-age and older
- Deaths occurred at a higher rate in first time participants
- Most deaths in triathlons came during the swimming portion
- They found a total of 135 sudden deaths, resuscitated cardiac arrests, and trauma-related deaths.
Between 1985 and 2016, 109 of those 135 events resulted in deaths, with 72 occurring in the swim, 20 occurring in the cycling portion, and 17 occurring in the run. Deaths in cycling events were primarily due to trauma caused by collisions.
Swimming is both the first leg and the shortest leg (by time and distance) of most triathlons.
Due to the high risk of undetected cardiovascular disease in those who have died, experts have recommended better screenings for participants.