Open Water Safety and FINA Related Issues


Informative email string from Coach Richard Shoulberg. Forwarded by John Leonard (with enthusiastic approval from Coach Shoulberg, whose mission it is to make Open Water Swimming safe in the immediate future.) Please feel free to forward this to anyone you deem important to see this. It says a great deal about Open Water Safety and how FINA really operates. – JL

Email #1

—Original Message—
From: Thomas Lurz
Sent: Thursday, November 04, 2010 2:23 PM
To: Richard Shoulberg
Subject: Re: Fran

Hello Mr.Shoulberg,

Thanks for your email, and for writing to me. Of course I would like to help you and everyone else who I can help. I also wrote with M. Crippen. I knew Fran really well and he was so good guy, athlete and a very good swimmer! One of the best in world of course in open water. I had a lot of respect for him and we had also some fun together at the swimming competitions.

But also we spoke a lot about the conditions and organisations in open water and especially about the FINA World Cup series. We had the same opinion about that. It should be much more professionel in many ways.

I was so shocked and I am still very shocked about what happened and I still cant believe it, really.

The race was not well organised. the FINA deligate (he is from Latvia and does not speak good English, don’t know his name) was not able to chance something and I also think didn’t wanted to chance something.

The weather was too hot and the water temperature also. The water was around 32 degrees and the outside air temperature was around 45 degrees. We also started at 10 o’clock and at 12 we finished the race. I think that is the worst time you can start such arace. Its the hottest temperature during the day. Not professional!

The race should not have been there!

We traveled to the hotel from Dubai to this town called Fujairah one day before the race. It was nearly 3 hours by bus through the desert.

There was not enough safety boats and life guards during the race. We swimmers came to the organisation and said Fran is missing and when he is missing there should be something wrong because he is one of the best and he should be in the finish. We swimmers were diving after him. the organisation drove with jet skis and they had no idea where they need to search and they had no idea what to do when such accident happen. and also it was dangerous again because many swimmers were inside the sea diving and they were driving with jet skis!!! not a safety boat with gps or echolot! for normally it must go very fast. they didnt collect the accreditaion and given them after the race again to the swimmers to check how is in the finish and who not.

I am getting very angry when I read the statement from organisation chef ayman saad. I know him a little and when I read his statements I am just angry and aggressive. like “what can we do…he just pushed so hard…” perhaps more safety boats and take care about swimmers and don’t swim in the desert under too hot conditions!!!??!!!

in many FINA races we have not good conditions in general. many swimmers write me and ask me if I can do something to chance it and I will try my best.

If you want I can send you a letter I wrote with reasons to chance. but all the same sometimes I don’t feel the power because even if they chance it will bring us Fran not back.

I hope so much that USA Swimming is finding out the real reasons of the Fran [Crippen] death because I think in Emirates they tried to say is was heart attack. I am sure the hot conditions were the biggest reason. Fran was top fit!!!

And also 3 other swimmers went in hospital and I saw another russian girl who felt down after the race because of the hot weather.

I have a lot of experience in open water but this was too much. I would not swim the other 15km a few days later even nothing serious would finges were swollen and we don’t need to swim under such conditions! We are professional swimmers and we do Olympic Sport and we aren’t extreme swimmers or surviers under the hardest conditions.

If you have any questions you can ask me. I want to help in any ways!!! And how are the things going right now? Did the doctors find out something?


—- Original-Nachricht —-
Datum: Thu, 4 Nov 2010 07:19:53 -0400
Von: Richard Shoulberg
An: Thomas Lurz
Betreff: Fran


Fran Crippen has been part of our program for over 20 years. I am the head coach for Germantown Acadaemy for the past 42 years, I can only tell you that Fran Crippen had the greatest respect for you first as a person and as an athlete. I would appreciate any information you can provide me about the events of Fran’s death and the meet in general. It is my mission to ensure that this never happens again and that open water swimming with be safe for all. Please continue to train hard and work toward you dreams. All the best.

Richard W Shoulberg

Email #2

—Original Message—
From: Thomas Lurz
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2010 4:32 AM
To: Richard Shoulberg
Subject: letter


thanks for your email and I think you wrote very important points down. enclose I send you the letter for the athletes. its a proposal for some rules chancing. many swimmers already signed it and I will wait a few more days and then send to FINA. We have a big support from all swimmers. its nearly every swimmer in open water!!!

I also think that the FINA technical open water commitee need to chance soemthing. they can do it and they need to take care at the world cup races.


HI Everyone,

after the terrible race in Fujairah in October I think we as an athletes need to chance some things in Open Water. We don’t want that such things will ever happen again and also we need to get our sport more professional. Many swimmers came to me after this last World Cup race and asked me if I can write some reasons down. I did it and just read it and if you have the same opinion and you stand behind this letter just let me know and “Singature” this letter.

Thomas Lurz

Email #3

From: Christine Jennings Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 4:32 PM
To: Richard Shoulberg
Subject: Re:

HI Coach Shoulberg,

Forgive my late response, I have not been regularly checking email. I’ve been at the OTC without a computer since I got back, so I have no way to save this report into a file, sorry. I did print it for my reference, just in case.

I also have some saftety issues I wanted to share with you and the rest of the Open Water group, but have it hand written. I am planning on typing that up today or tomorrow and sending it out to Kalyn Keller, who has sent us an email to work together on this. I know as an individual it is hard to be heard, but as a group we can make some progress, especially with you and Kalyn helping us.

Below is my statement of what I recall happened that week:

Thursday-Friday, October 22, 2010

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

On Thursday, October 21st, we were notified the race location had been changed. On Friday afternoon we drove 2 hours to the new location, Fujairah, across the peninsula. After the long drive many swimmers went down to the race course to swim in the water, I however did not because I always do one practice the day before my races.

The night of the 22nd a technical meeting was held, as is required before any open water 10K race. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes, about 60-90 minutes less the amount of time any other technical meeting I have ever been to has lasted. The first 10 min of the meeting was introducing who was in the race and the total points so far accumulated by the swimmers in contention for the grand prize. After that they went over the course map and feeding stations. Some questions were asked on how two feeding stations that held 20 each could potentially hold up to 80 feeders, one for each swimmer. After that, we shortly went into medical safety, which was all about who the medical doctor was, what type of insurance FINA had for the race, and that an ambulance would be available. The topic of safety on the water was never discussed. They then went to dismiss everyone from the meeting, not realizing there were plenty of coaches who still had questions to address, mainly being about the finish shoot, rules regarding swimming on either side of feeding station, who is on what feeding station, starting with or without swim caps and several others. The topic of safety, as I look back seemed irrelevant, as many were too focused on the task at hand, me being one. While these last questions were being addressed, there were about 20 people left, coaches and swimmer’s together, the rest had already left and boarded the bus. I stayed the whole time.

When I got back to the hotel for dinner, I started asking the American swimmers how the water felt, because, again, I did not get in that night. Their responses included a bit of surprise about the difference in water temperature between Dubai and our current location in Fujairah. After that, all I could think of was how to best prepare to swim in hot water, drinking lots and lots of water was one thing I did, because I knew once I got into the water there is nothing else you can do but give your best.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

On the day of the race I got up early to swim in the hotel pool, which was about 12-15m long because I was trying as much as possible to limit my exposure to the hot water on the race course. I then proceeded to eat breakfast, drink more water, and load the bus to the race course. When I got to the race course, it was about 845am, and one could just tell the air temperature, even at that time, was already steadily increasing. The “air condition” tent was definitely cooler than outside, but it was still warm enough for me to sweat. I got my swim suit on and proceeded to go check in to get numbered. I brought my credential over to identify myself to receive my number, and that was it, I never needed that credential ever again. There were no timing chips either, which are used to track swimmers as they do each lap and finish. I believe just about everyone was continuously hydrating while doing their pre-race routine of applying vasoline for chaffing, duck tape, and gel packs in their swim suits. Thirty minutes prior to the race, I started wondering what the water was like, so I decided to go in. I swam out about 50 meters and back, a total of probably less than a 100 meters and then proceeded back into the tent.

Next, they called all the men’s names and told them to enter the water, next the women, there was no collection of credentials. I watched the men enter the water and their start and then entered the water myself.

***Here is how the race played out for me during those 2 hours:
While lined up at the start I already knew this was going to be a tough race to finish, a swimmer’s gut feeling I guess you could call it.

About 500 meters in we rounded the first feeding dock, I had to check to see if my feeder, Jack Fabian, was on the first one, as the coaches never knew which station they were allowed on because one feeding dock could only hold 20 feeders out of a potential 80, he was. Nobody I saw fed 500 meters into the race, it just was not yet needed. About 1700 meters, almost one loop, into the race, I took a gel from my suit, 200 meters later I felt sick to my stomach and could taste the gel as it started to come back up. At my first feed, 2500 meters into the race, I drank all my feed, which included Gatorade and gel packs mixed in them, the cold drink helped for a bit, but as soon as I took another gel pack at about 3700 meters, I finally threw up. At that point I just kept telling myself that no matter how much I throw up or feel sick, I need to keep on intaking Gatorade and gels whenever possible. I fed again at the feeding station (4500m), this stayed down for a couple minutes, as was the case for the my third feed at 6500 meters. I took a gel at 7500m which did not stay down. My fourth feed, at 8500 meters, I could not swallow any of it.

Physical Situation:
The first inclination that something did not feel right was at the 6000 meter mark, I had a pretty bad headache and was hoping my next feed coming up would help subside my headache and nauseousness, it didn’t. At about the 7300 meter mark my vision started to get a bit hazy, I then began to swim with my eyes shut as much as I could, I started praying. Around that time, the pace of the swimmers began picking up, I followed hoping I could stick with them. When the last feed came by, I knew I was struggling. I took my bottle, tried to drink, it never happened. I threw it away and continued trying to stay behind the girl ahead of me to get her draft, next thing I knew I was several meters away from her and had to work harder to get back on her feet again, this happened several times. At this point, I remember trying to talk to myself, encouraging myself to stay awake and focus and push my body harder, something inside me then told me not to, I stopped and started to go easy.

After loosing the front pack I realized I had drifted about 15 meters off course when I saw some girl’s swim by, I don’t really remember swimming the next 700 meters until I turned on my back because I was scared of passing out or not finishing the race. I lifted my arms as far out of the water as I could at the time, which was definitely above my elbows, gave a few waves and then floated on my back for several minutes hoping someone would come and check on me, nobody ever did. I did see a boat 300 meters away, but apparently they were not “looking” for danger. I had no energy to go in search of help. After I calmed down and was no longer panicking and hyperventilating because it was hard to breath, I decided the only way I’m getting out of this race is to swim the last 500 meters. I started swimming, next thing I knew I had a German girl holding and hugging me at the finish and trying to then help me out of the water.

After the Race:
I could barely stand after getting out of the water and was helped to the ambulance where it was cooler. Some guy thought it was a good idea to throw ice cold water on me to cool me down, I almost went into shock, I’m glad I did not. After a while, I was kicked out of the ambulance so someone else could use it, I was still not ok. I ended up being taken to the tent and someone who was smarter put ice in a towel over my head and behind my neck to try and cool me down. I was told later at the hospital that I had started to act a bit delusional and I was really pale and was still overheating. I remember asking lots of questions about Fran’s whereabouts and why no one was looking for him. Thirty minutes after the race they decided to take me back to the ambulance and to the hospital. I rode with Eva Fabian, we never got any intravenous saline solution until after we arrived at the hospital.

The hospital story:
I’ve never been hospitalized in my life, so having an IV in my hand was a first. After the last saline solution ran out, blood started to flow into the tube out of my hand, which I later found out that if it forms an air bubble and goes back into my hand it can cause problems in the heart and lungs from the air bubble if large enough, I think it was called Air Embolism, I will need to look that one up. Anyway, once the blood started to come out of my hand, Eva and I were a bit freaked out and started asking for a nurse or doctor, nobody came, we started yelling for Help, nobody came, then a few minutes later, a doctor pops his head in and tells us basically to “shut up, this is a hospital” in a rude manner. Yet, at the same time some guy next to use had been chanting really loud in Arabic for the past 10 minutes? Really! A nurse later came in and resolved the situation of my blood coming out the wrong way into the IV tube, thankfully no problems occurred.

We were told about Fran’s death 30 minutes after he had arrived at the hospital. We were released from the hospital around 4-5pm. We returned to the hotel for 30 minutes, I packed and took a shower and then had to go to the police station to give my report.

The police station:
I had several issues I did not agree on when at the police station. I do know and understand that there is a difference in culture, but some things still need to be done better. One of the first questions I was asked was what religion I am, me having a translator who was not very fluent and was actually one of the race organizers, I responded, “I’m a Christian, what does that have to do with this?” They told me that they file my report under what religion I am. I’m thinking, well, what would happen if I was Jewish? What would happen to my report, would it hold any substance?

After they printed my responses they had typed up, I asked someone to read it back to to me because it was in Arabic. Small detail, they got the date wrong, second, they very briefly summarized what I actually said. I was angry, I made them rewrite it, it was much longer afterwards. (LET ME KNOW IF YOU WANT AN EXAMPLE). It was like they did not take a death seriously, they did not care for the why or how. It just did, or as Eva told me, as the police told her, that Fran died because it was fate. Which I do now know is part of their belief system.

I was then shuttled straight to Dubai, boarded my plane and left for the United States. I arrived back home Sunday morning in Colorado.

Thank you, Let me know if I can clarify any of this as this is what I scribbled down as soon as I got back to the USA and just quickly typed up in word. When I get a chance to clean this up, as some words might be jumbled and not make sense, I can email you a new version.

My Regards,
Christine Jennings

On Fri, Nov 5, 2010 at 7:18 AM, Richard Shoulberg wrote:


I had the pleasure of meeting you and I know exactly who you are. Fran spoke very highly of you and my new mission in life is to make this wonderful sport safe and I have communicated with everyone and anyone who I thought could help the sport of open water. I wrote to the president and secretary of FINA, but did not get a reply-no surprise to me. When you have a chance, I would appreciate you giving me your thoughts on that horrible day. I saw your interview on TV and saw quotes in our local newspaper about the tragic event. I want you to keep your dreams high for Fran and yourself. I will be on the sidelines next June at our national championships and I guarantee I will give you a big good luck hug.

Richard W Shoulberg
Head Coach – Swimming/Aquatic Director
Germantown Academy
340 Morris Road
Fort Washington, PA 19034

Email #4

From: Alex Meyer Sent: Tuesday, November 02, 2010 6:16 PM
To: Richard Shoulberg
Subject: Re:

Hey Shoulberg,

Thanks for your email. I was hoping I would get to talk to you a little more this past weekend, but it just went by so fast and there were so many people to see. Will you be at Golden Goggles?

I, too, want to make something good out of this tragedy. I’m here for anyone who needs to know what happened that day, and I am committed to making necessary changes happen. I’ve attached a letter that I wrote that details all of the problems with the UAE race.

My number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. Call me if you ever need anything.


On Tue, Nov 2, 2010 at 9:15 AM, Richard Shoulberg wrote:


So sorry for the loss of Fran and so sorry for what you went through to help your friend. I am trying to get together as much information as I can about the tragic death of Fran. Any information you can give will be great. I sent an email on Tuesday, October 26, to Chuck Wiegus, Dale Neuburger that I told Fran at 2:16 a.m. that I had a new purpose in life and a new mission. I will do everything possible that this will never happen again to any family, club or country and FINA once they put the gold medal out, they do kids would work extremely hard and in my opinion FINA and the host organizers failed all the athletes. Keep in touch. Chase your dream and never, never give up.

Richard W Shoulberg
Head Coach – Swimming/Aquatic Director
Germantown Academy
340 Morris Road
Fort Washington, PA 19034

October 25, 2010

To whom it may concern,

This report is prepared by myself, Alex Meyer, based on my perspective of the events surrounding the tragic death of my friend and teammate Fran Crippen, and the experiences of others that were related to me in person.

Almost every FINA World Cup I have attended has had glaring organizational errors in terms of athlete accommodation, transportation, and venue location and safety. Listed are the major problems with the organization with the last race in Fujairah that I believe contributed to Fran’s death.

There was no check-in or check-out for the swimmers before and after the race, therefore no way to be accountable for their whereabouts. At most World Cup races, the athletes’ credentials are taken as they enter the water, and returned to them after they finish, allowing officials on land to know exactly who is still in the water.

The officials did not appear to have radios, or at least several of them that I spoke to. It’s possible that the officials on the two boats had them, but I cannot know for sure. I began to get worried and started asking questions to the race officials about ten minutes after the first men finished. They could not answer the simple questions of whether or not Francis Crippen #39 was disqualified or if he had gotten out of the water voluntarily. I asked if they could radio the referee since they could not answer these important questions, but then said they had no radios. They also didn’t know where the referee was. After this I had no choice but to begin a search on my own and I got on a jet ski to look for Fran on the course. I went around twice on a jet ski and then came in and got Jack Fabian to help me, who had been caring for Christine Jennings and his daughter Eva who were very sick after the race.

There were 55 males and 27 females entered to swim the races, and there appeared to be no lifeguards. It was unclear what was said about lifeguards at the technical meeting since the FINA medical delegate spoke little English and went through the whole presentation in about five minutes, saying little, even attempting to end the meeting before several people had the opportunity to have their questions answered. The questions they did answer had very vague answers, almost all of them saying that they will “try” to do something.

If Fran had attempted to get help, it was a futile effort because as Christine Jennings said to me in an email, “I lifted both arms out of the water for about 10 sec or so then laid on my back for several minutes hyper-ventilating bc I was too tired to keep waving for someone. I just was hoping someone would see me and come and ask if I was ok because I was afraid I couldn’t finish and wanted to either be pulled or have at least someone next to me as I tried to finish…I was extremely scared!”

At the technical meeting, the FINA medical delegate said that a water quality check had not been done since they changed the location of the race, but that he was sure it was OK. Though the water was relatively clear, it was 33°C, which is not OK. There needs to be a rule for maximum temperature just like we already have one for minimum temperature. Four athletes ended up in the hospital, one of them dead.

  • The race was swum from 10am to noon, the hottest part of the day when the sun is directly overhead.
  • There were no medical boats, only two official boats (one for each race), and the medical delegate on a jet ski.
  • After the race, Eva and Christine were being treated for heat exhaustion in the ambulance and had to share an oxygen mask.
  • There were only two ambulances. They did not have air conditioning, drinking water, or IVs.
  • There were no certified EMTs.
  • Jack and I and several athletes who had finished the race were the only ones looking for Fran before any officials came to help.
  • There was no surf rescue until about two hours after the men’s race finished. Police and rescue divers showed up. There should be scuba divers under water during the race.

While the organizers with the local committee were compassionate and accommodating, the FINA delegates and the local press were anything but that. They tried to wipe their hands clean and absolve themselves of all responsibility, with no sympathy for Fran, his teammates, or the other athletes. The technical delegate was the most rude and disrespectful. Multiple conflicting reports were released prematurely, with lots of misinformation. In an effort to make it appear as though Fran was rescued in a timely fashion, one report said that he was found floating, another that he was on the rocks, and that he died later in the hospital. He was obviously dead when they brought him to shore because the rescue boat approached the harbor very slowly, and they were not performing CPR. They covered him head to toe with a white sheet on a stretcher and put him in the ambulance. I was hysterical and pulled the sheet down off of Fran’s face and his lips and nose were very white. He still had his goggles on too. Also, he was bleeding from his ear, and later the doctors confirmed that his eardrum had ruptured from the pressure while sinking. Obviously the reports of him being found floating or on land and found alive were fabricated because he was clearly deep underwater, and it was obvious that he was dead upon arrival to the harbor. Hopefully an autopsy in the United States or by a trusted doctor in the UAE can provide a reliable conclusion.

Jack Fabian returned to the venue to claim his feeding sticks which were being held there for him. He had to go there because the organizers refused to bring them to the hotel. When he arrived, there was a press conference waiting for him, and reporters were asking if it was true that he killed his swimmer because he pushed him too hard. One report claimed this, and that Fran looked tired at the last feeding station where Jack last saw him, and that he made him continue swimming. Jack did the right thing and spoke to nobody and left immediately.

The FINA technical delegate asked Jack why he thought this happened, and Jack replied that there was a lack of safety precaution etc. The delegate immediately put his hand in Jack’s face and said that he had heard enough. This man is notorious among the veteran athletes for being incompetent and not caring about the well-being of the athletes at the competition.

There were other problems with the organization of this race, though I don’t think they had anything to do Fran’s death.

There were No Timing Chips

The local committee hosted all the athletes in Dubai, a three-hour drive away, until the afternoon before the race. It’s unacceptable to make athletes do this the day before a race, especially the last and most competitive one of the World Cup circuit.

Before the Grand Prix race, the only option for pool training was to drive three hours back to Dubai to train, and back to Fujairah again.

This careless lack of consideration for the safety and well-being of the athletes is absolutely inexcusable. Negligence on behalf of FINA and the UAE organizing committee killed my friend and teammate. The race was put together last-minute with the least amount of money possible. It showed, and four athletes suffered from it, one of them fatally. Fran Crippen was a remarkable athlete and an even more remarkable person. He always had opinions about the way events were run and always had new and bright ideas to make them better. I think we should honor his memory by fighting for change in the way athletes are treated and races are organized, especially in terms of safety. We are humans, and deserve to be treated as such. We swim because we love to do it, not for the money. The night after Fran died, many of the athletes sat at dinner and despite how competitive we are with each other, we all love each other and feel like we are part of one big family. Everyone loved Fran, and he had close friends from all around the world who I believe will fight for this cause too. It will take a group effort, with multiple swimming federations working together to get these changes to happen, but I know it can be done, and I am committed to making it happen.

Ideas for the Future:

There needs to be a rule about the maximum temperature in which a race can be held. This should be a combination of water temperature, air temperature, and water conditions. It should also be dependent on the distance of the race.

Mandatory lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio, competent lifeguards, and efficient coverage of the course. One idea a coach from New Zealand proposed was to offer free accommodation to competitive surf and rescue lifeguards from Australia and New Zealand to come guard at the competition. Many of them would leap at the opportunity.

Some kind of GPS-like tracking system for athletes, with information on velocity and depth underwater. It’s 2010 – this technology is available.

Alex Meyer

Email #5

From: Richard Shoulberg Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 2:32 PM
To: Dale Neuburger
Subject: Questions

Dear Dale,

Here are some of the questions I’d like for you to consider before we speak on the telephone:

  1. How is a Grand Prix or Open-Water World Championship awarded to a host country?
  2. What are the credentials or qualifications of the people who vote for the open-water sites?
  3. Who provides the voters with the information needed to select a site?
  4. What are the published rules for site selection?
  5. What are the written rules of the competition and who is charge of enforcing the rules?
  6. FINA has a low temperature rule. Why is there no high temperature rule?
  7. Who pays the organization or company that represent the different countries vying for site selection?
  8. What knowledge do those organizations have in regards to the rules that effect the safety of competitors?

Going forward, a safer open-water calendar must be adhered to by FINA. Also, a standard for proper housing, food/hydration, and preparation time must be established for all competitions. Will ShanghaI 2011 be reconsidered because the conditions will be dissimilar to London? It would make sense to select athletes for London 2012 who have been proven fit for the conditions they will be expected to endure.

I’m looking forward to our phone conversation or you may feel free to email a response to my questions.

Richard W. Shoulberg, Head Coach
Germantown Academy and Germantown Academy Aquatic Club

Email #6

From: Richard Shoulberg Sent: Thursday, November 18, 2010 11:01 AM
To: Julio Maglione; HKASA; Steven Munatones
Subject: Concerns


I would think that the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee is working feverishly to make sure the death of Fran Crippen never happens again and I know that the season starts January, 2011.

In my opinion FINA must add a high water temperature. They currently have a minimum low water temperature and in my opinion they must add a maximum high water temperature and it has to be different for fresh water versus salt water.

I would like to see a list of all the safety requirements needed to run a FINA or Olympic or USA swimming open water venue and who will enforce the safety requirements?

I think the FINA Open Water Technical Committee must select safe sites for all competitions and list any site that is not safe before people vote on the site selection.

My impression is the people who voted on having the open water competition in Dubai (and I was told there were 20 votes and Dubai received 14 votes) and I would like to see the expertise that these 20 people had in picking a FINA open water site and what company represented Dubai for the bid.

There must be an open water calendar set by FINA and approved by the Open Water Technical Committee experts in dates and location of competitions and the period of time between the dates of competition and that the host country provide ample time for all competitors to acclimatize to where the venue will be held.

Working backwards for 2016, Brazil Olympics, the FINA technical open water experts should pick venues that mirror more like Brazil, starting with the year 2013.

I would gladly discuss with any of you any time, on how to make this beautiful sport safe and secure for all athletes from all nations. Fran was a member of our club since he was a little boy. His sister was a 2000 Olympian. His other sister made the World Championship team that will compete in China this summer and his third sister is a ten-time All American at the University of Virginia and is a present captain. The loss of Fran leaves a huge hole in the hearts of everyone at Germantown Academy, US Swimming and world swimming. I challenge you to make it safe.

Richard W Shoulberg
Head Coach – Swimming/Aquatic Director
Germantown Academy
340 Morris Road
Fort Washington, PA 19034

Email #7

From: Covino Francesca On Behalf Of Presidenza FIN Paolo Barelli
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:15 AM
To: Richard Shoulberg
Cc: Julio Maglione; Pipat Paniangvait; Margot Mountjoy; Flavio Bomio; Dale Neuburger
Subject: Answer Richard W Shoulberg letter of November 7, 2010

Dear Sir,

This is to reply to your e-mail dated 7th November 2010. For your information I have received no previous correspondence from you.

On behalf of myself and of the whole Italian Aquatic Family, let me first reiterate my deepest sadness for the death of Fran Crippen and confirm my most heartfelt condolences to his Family, to USA Aquatic Sports and USA Swimming. The tragic loss of Fran Crippen – such a great athlete and such a bright and incredible person – has been mourned also in Italy, where he gained the love and the sympathy of all the persons who witnessed his achievements when he won the bronze medal at the 13th World Championships in Rome 2009.

In my role of President of the Italian Swimming Federation I strongly wish that FINA and the responsible authorities will support every action aimed to clarify each aspect of this tragedy. It has to be done for Fran, and for all swimmers performing this wonderful sport. I say this as an Olympic athlete, as FINA Honorary Secretary (since July 2009) and as President of the Italian Swimming Federation. I obviously profoundly care for safety at all competitions, and for all FINA athletes, including, among them, thousands of Italian swimmers who practise open water swimming.

Coming to your letter, both its contents – a sequel of statements concerning my person and my reputation, which are both false and offensive – and its tone oblige me to give you a very clear and open answer.

Firstly, I do not need to make any comment to counter your affirmations about the FINA World Open Water Championships held in Roberval, Canada, on July 2010: in fact, the report that the FINA Executive received from the FINA TOWS Committee Honorary Secretary, herewith attached, already clarified various inexactnesses and inaccuracies which you manifested in your letter (and that were previously manifested – by coincidence! – also both at a Swimming Coaches Clinic, in the USA, and on a swim blog).

The FINA TOWS Committee Honorary Secretary’s report points out very clearly how competitions in Roberval were held according to the FINA Rules, included those related to swimming suits. I need to underline that your association of my name as FINA Honorary Secretary to the speculation that the Italian swimmers – my compatriots – had competed wearing swimming suits not approved by FINA is totally unfounded, and extremely serious. The following statement of yours (.”…Mr. Barelli, Honorary Secretary of FINA, is a major stock holder in that same company, the company that produced the suits”) is not only abusive and offensive but also reckless and false, just rubbish.

Your foolhardiness in asserting such falsehoods is aggravated by the fact that I do not know you personally and I have never talked to you. Indeed, you were temerarious in associating my person to both conjectural incorrectness in Roberval and my involvement in a swimming suit company. Actually I am not involved in any of such companies, or business, and therefore you must take responsibility, and you will be held accountable, for your calumnies. It would be interesting to know which your sources were.

You wrote also: “…privately and publicly in our meetings I have told Dale Neuburger and our IRC committee that FINA stands for two words: greed and corruption.” Of course you will take responsibility, and you will be held accountable, also for labeling FINA with these two words – greed and corruption. Could it be assumed that you are applying these two words, and all what they imply – also to Dale Neuburger, FINA Vice-President and FINA Bureau Member since 2000?

Before I conclude, I wish to say that I am glad to have many friends in United States, and that I love this wonderful country. I studied and swam in the USA, under the great coach “Doc” Counsilman, at the Indiana University, and I have relatives who are USA citizens.

Unfortunately, stupid and unreliable persons live everywhere in the world, including the USA. However, honest persons have to try and curb the damages that few stupid persons do: such appear to be the case of all those who are using a tragedy to instrumentally pursue other purposes. Eventually that will be uncovered.

I have written this letter for transparency and clearness and I will be looking forward to reading your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Paolo Barelli
FINA Honorary Secretary
President of the Italian Swimming Federation (FIN)

Email #8

—Original Message—
From: Chuck Wielgus
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 6:36 PM
To: Fran Crippen
Cc: Richard Shoulberg;Jim Wood;Lindsay Mintenko;Jack Roach;Mike Unger
Subject: FW: Open Water Swimming


Thanks for your note and attached letter. I’m going to share this with Jim Wood, Mike Unger, Lindsay Mintenko and Jack Roach to get their feedback so that I can give you a more thoughtful response. This may take a few days so please be patient.



—Original Message—
From: Fran Crippen
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 4:26 PM
To: Chuck Wielgus
Cc: Richard Shoulberg;Jim Wood
Subject: Open Water Swimming


Ive attached a letter concerning some of the issues surrounding the current state of Open Water swimming. I hope we can work together to solve some of these problems.

thank you and I hope youre having a great day,


Chuck Wielgus
CEO, USA Swimming
One Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO

Dear Chuck,

I’m writing you today with the hope that we can work together and constructively discuss some of the changes that are taking place within USA swimming. Since its Olympic insurgence in 2008 Open Water swimming has been gaining popularity and affording athletes a new event to compete and excel. This event, however, presents the athletes and USA swimming with a completely different set of challenges than in your average swim meet.

As the average age of the national team has increased so has the age of the athletes involved in Open Water swimming. The difference though is that a post grad pool swimmer who wants to stay involved in the sport can undoubtedly find a swim meet within driving distance of their home. Open Water swimmers, however, have no choice but to travel a great distance to gain exposure and experience in competitive events.

Once at the events, our swimmers are typically on their own to find assistance. An open water swimmer needs a coach to represent them at the pre race meetings, coach them during practice, and most importantly, feed them during the event. I think the last point is the most critical. When an athlete doesn’t have a coach they often have to garner the assistance of local volunteers. In this day and age, it is extremely risky to trust a volunteer in a foreign country with the Gatorade and Gel packs that we are going to consume during the race.

To give you a clearer picture of the effects of some of these issues, I would like to use myself as an example. Open Water swimming has brought my dream of winning an Olympic Gold Medal closer to a reality. Since graduating from college I have been committed to traveling to the World Cup events and competing against the best marathon swimmers in the world. These events, however, are all over the world and have created monetary hurdles. This year I have competed in seven of the eight world cup races and my airfare has totaled 4,452.81. FINA agrees to pay 5 nights in a hotel so at some of the races I have had to pay my way for a few nights. Over the year my hotel costs have totaled 595.15. USA swimming agrees to pay 400 dollars per world cup race so I have spent about 2500 dollars of my own money in order to compete.

At the seven world cup races we have only had a USA swimming delegate at three. Eva Fabian’s father, Jack, paid his own way to two of the races and was kind enough to help four other American swimmers with coaching and feeding. Coach Bill Rose also traveled, at his own expense, to Mexico and helped take care of seven athletes. We have had at least five athletes at six of the seven races and I believe that not having proper representation is a very poor reflection upon USA swimming.

Throughout the season I have had numerous conversations with National Youth coordinator Jack Roach and Open Water National Team director Paul Asmuth about the direction of Open Water swimming. We discussed on multiple occasions the National Team director’s intention of reimbursing my travel expenses and sending someone to help and protect the athletes at the races. I was very enthused about Mark Shubert’s plans and believed that this was a great step for Open Water Swimming. As the year has progressed these conversations have not translated into action.

I know in the past month there have been many issues surrounding USA swimming but I feel it is critical to try and find a solution to some of these problems. There are many swimmers who are feeling the same way and Id like to act as their voice on these matters.

Feel free to call or email me at anytime. My number is (XXX) XXX-XXXX and my email address is

I know your time is valuable and I really appreciate it,

Fran Crippen

Update 20

Sunday – October 31 – 11:00 a.m. EST

There are no words that can adequately describe the roller coaster of emotions that the swimming family has traveled this past week. Nor are there enough words to adequately translate for those not in Conshohocken these past few days what took place here. People from around the country, and indeed even a few from other countries, made their way to this special place to gather, to place arms around one another’s shoulders and to embrace the Crippen family in a circle of love and affection. There was much crying, some laughing, much reminiscing and overwhelming moments of solemn private reflections as we listened to those who spoke and shared such deep and heartfelt memories, thoughts and sentiments with us.

Virginia Swim Coach Mark Bernardino opened the ceremonies with rich and warm stories of what Fran meant to his family and to the swim team at the University of Virginia, where Fran was the team captain and leader. He took us on a short journey with words that conveyed images of Fran’s many qualities and characteristics, and he painted pictures that made us smile and made us cry. Fran’s Germantown Academy brothers were represented in Geoff Meyer’s first reading of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and others who spoke after were equally composed, but perhaps none more so that Fran’s girlfriend, Caitlin Regan who spoke in a manner that conveyed the deepest of love and respect not just for Fran but for the entire Crippen family. Whatever Caitlin’s future might become, it will be impossible for anyone who heard her speak in such a strong and composed way not to think that perhaps there will in some way always be four Crippen sisters.

At the end of the service, Fran was carried from the church by his GA and UVA brothers and the long procession to the Calvary Cemetery ensued for the burial. As the church emptied, so too did the adjoining hall where those who could not get into the church were able to watch via video. People had come to the church 2-3 hours early and still had to wait in a line that stretched around the block.

Following the burial, a reception was held at Germantown Academy. There, many of us lingered in the hallowed space that is the swimming pool at GA and the place where Dick Shoulberg has shaped both swimmers and souls for decades. When you step in, you don’t want to leave and you know you are in a cocoon of passion, of heart, of commitment, of success and accomplishment. It is a sanctuary where the greatest of teaching takes place, and where young men and young women grow and emerge and blossom into adults ready to make a difference in the world.

Back in the GA field house, where the reception was going on, the UVA brothers circled up, locked arms and began their college cheers. Not to be outdone, the GA brothers responded in kind and amidst the exuberance of their youth the attending adults could be seen with both wide smiles and teary eyes. And then another special moment, Eva Fabian, the young 17-year old swimmer who also competed at the race in the UAE with Fran stepped before a microphone and played a rendition of the national anthem on her violin that stirred every heart and punctuated the day.

As things drew to a close and people began to drift away, it was hard not to begin turning one’s thoughts to what happens next. How will family and friends respond to this tragedy? How will life go on for those most deeply affected by the loss? What will be done to help the young athletes and others who will struggle with their ongoing grief? What will organizations and others do to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again? Many, many questions.

Many things have been quietly in the works below the surface this past week. Counselors and others with experience have been made available to the family, to friends and to athletes who were Fran’s teammates. FINA has already announced plans to conduct an investigation, and so too has USA Swimming. Investigators of the highest caliber with international experience and specific experience in the UAE are already engaged and at work in the fact-finding that must be done. USA Swimming’s is forming its review commission that will receive the investigator’s report and consider many other things in an effort to provide the Crippen family with information on what happened before, during and after the competition;and to come forward with recommendations necessary to improve safety at future open water events so that nothing like this ever happens again.

Many people are reaching out and want to share information, offer suggestions and offer their own time and expertise to the work that needs to be done. USA Swimming will establish a means by which everyone who has information and recommendations to share will be able to do so. However, it is important for people to understand that these efforts will take time. Investigators have an enormous task in front of them, with many people from different parts of the world to talk to. The process of fact-finding will take several months and people should not expect progress reports along the way while this work is ongoing. I would urge those people with information and recommendations they have to share to take the time now to write things down while things are still fresh and to have this ready to share with the commission once it is established and a conduit has been set up to receive information.

USA Swimming President Bruce Stratton and I will continue to share information as we can. Bruce and I remain in constant contact and we have a “kitchen cabinet” of wise and experienced people helping us. We will do the best we can to respond to any questions and queries that come our way, but we also trust that people will understand that there will be some things that – at least for a time anyway – may have to be quietly withheld. However, please know that the efforts going forward are very in-depth and that we’ll seek to be as transparent as we can be along the way.

With the deepest of sorrow, and the strongest of intent to ensure that no other family has to carry the weight of a similar tragedy.

Chuck Wielgus
USA Swimming

Dedicated to the Memory of Fran Crippen with Peace and Serenity for the Crippen Family.

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