The 7th Asian Open Water Swimming Championships took place at Putrajaya Lake in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday, May 19th through Sunday, May 21st. Representing the host nation, 28-year-old Heidi Gan made history by becoming the first swimmer from Malaysia to win a title at the Asian meet. She won the women’s 10k event over Kazakhstan’s Xeniya Romanchuk by approximately 4 minutes.
As notable as Gan’s victory for Malaysia was, the achievement was overshadowed by a more concerning headline. Although the 5k event that took place earlier in the competition went off smooth, by the time the 10k race was slated to kick-off the water had warmed to an alarmingly high temperature 31.9°C (89.42°F).
According to the FINA Open Water Swimming rule 5.5 that was implemented the year after the death of American open water swimmer Fran Crippen, the water temperature of an open water race should be ‘a minimum of 16°C and a maximum of 31°C’ and should be checked the day of the race, 2 hours before the start, in the middle of the course at a depth of 40 cm.
In Malaysia this past weekend for the 10k race, however, despite the water temperature exceeding FINA’s own limit, Chairman of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, Ronnie Wong, gave the go-ahead for the race to begin. In response, Team Japan withdrew its 10k swimmers from the race citing concerns over health risks, despite having already won the 5k titles.
The 10k race started at 8am local time, but towards the end of the race, the water temperature was measured at 32°C.
Of the decision to proceed with the race despite the temperature, Steven Munatones, found of the World Open Water Swimming Association, KAATSU Global and KAATSU Research Foundation, stated “Although nothing surprises me anymore in the sport, I really do not understand this decision – especially it places human lives in danger.
“This rule took several months of deliberation by and within FINA to implement – precisely because Fran Crippen died under such conditions. FINA already caused controversy when it decided to move forward with its 25 km race at the 2009 World Championships when the water temperatures exceeded 31°C, but here is another example of a major championship event that demands that its athletes race in extremely warm water.” (Open Water Swimming Daily News)