2 triathletes die – Ironman Ireland 70.3

ironman-logo-icon2 triathletes die – Ironman Ireland 70.3

 

Awful news from Ironman Ireland as the event organizers confirm the following:

We are deeply saddened to confirm the death of two race participants at the IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland, Cork, 2023. During the swim portionof Sunday’s race, safety personnel provided immediate medical attention upon recognising the athletes were in need of assistance.

We share our greatest sympathies with the families and friends of the athletes and will continue to offer them support as they go through this very difficult time.

We thank the safety personnel and first responders who worked quickly to provide the athletes with medical assistance.

This article gives detailed background information and on-the-day event videos further below.

 

Continually updated as more info comes to light. Please comment below

Thoughts

Obviously, this is terrible for the friends and family of the deceased and I send my sincere condolences as I’m sure do all readers here.

How Safe Are Ironman Events?

Ironman-branded events tend to be large. My impression of competing in these events is that race organisers generally have greater means at their disposal to ensure safety than at smaller events. That said, the unique difficulty the Ironman Organisation faces is how to ensure the safety of large numbers of people – thousands of competitors and attendees. Ironman events thus tend to have quite a significant buy-in and help from local communities and local governments.

…it’s a worldwide event, there’s quite a lot of organisation that went into it. But at the end of the day, safety is paramount and the fact that they did reduce the length of the swim…they are very, very conscious of safety. [O’Flynn, Local Mayor via RTE]

Deaths are not unusual in endurance sporting events nor are they unusual in football and many other sports. Heart defects of professional soccer players sometimes make headline news but a local triathlete could simply be unlucky with a crash when cycling. However, TWO deaths in one race are unusual.

Ironman Group in DEEP trouble as Triathlon Ireland denies sanctioning Ironman Ireland event where 2 died

All triathlon fatalities seem to be listed here on Wikiwand. Scanning through the list, the last time there were two fatalities at one event was in 2019 for both Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 (males: 61yo, 38yo) and Ironman South Africa 70.3 (males: 48yo, 63yo).

 

Was the Ironman Ireland Swim Course Safe?

I’ve completed several HIM and IM races including a sea HIM and despite being a competent swimmer I would have to say that it is challenging for lake and pool swimmers to venture into the sea.

That said, the image above shows that the swim is somewhat sheltered and is classified by the organisers as a BAY swim. Indeed the swim course has in the past won an award from the Global Athletes’ Choice Awards organisation. So let’s assume that there was nothing intrinsically unsafe with the choice of the course location in good conditions.

 

Was Ironman Ireland Safe To Run On the Day?

Whether or not it was safe to run on the day due to the weather is another question. Safety is always said to be paramount but cancelling large events is a costly process.

Speculation has already turned to how well the organisers responded to the conditions on the day (Sunday). Facebook comments from people who were at the event are shown below and several expressed concerns that the swim should not have gone ahead.

 

Yet the organiser posted the following picture of the sea conditions on Facebook which look relatively benign. I’ve put a screenshot of it in case the original gets removed.

Indeed this Facebook footage of the swim start from Tri Coach Bjorn also seems to suggest that the event was running smoothly.

https://fb.watch/my5lo2Pawu/

However, here is a video from r/Triathlon which shows some of the complete chaos on the ground as swimmers have difficulty entering the water. There are a lot of swimmers there who, to me, look even less confident in the sea than I am. Comments in this Reddit thread range from ‘Sue Triathlon Ireland/Ironman’ to ‘don’t start if you don’t feel safe’ to ‘these people don’t know how to swim in the sea’

This is the IM Ireland swim where 2 athletes have died. Thoughts?
by u/mitchanium in triathlon

 

I’ll add this damming comment from @triathlon (full comments below) which also points out some of the organisational chaos that s/he claims was going on, “The swim was delayed an hour past the original delay. Kayaks were struggling against the current. It took forever to get all the buoys in the right place. The distance was reduced again minutes before the start, and again mid-race with thousands of athletes in the water, because people couldn’t get to the first buoy due to the swell and strong currents.”

So my take on that evidence is the shore break is perhaps a bit choppier than I’d like but once past the breaking waves, the swell doesn’t look too bad at all. Temper those thoughts with the fact that neither you nor I know what the currents were like. And the comment above indicates there may have been more going on than initially seems the case.

Image|Cathal Shaw via RTE

 

That said, the picture above from Cathal Shaw gives a better view of the shore breaks and looks considerably hairier.

Weather Condition – Background

Let’s look at the weather conditions leading up to the event.

A storm caused serious disruption to the bike route and a significant cleanup operation was required to improve the safety of that. From sources, my understanding is that the cleanup operation is what caused the event to be delayed and that the swim conditions on the original race day, Saturday, were better than the Sunday.

However adverse water conditions can persist after the storm has passed.

Swim Changes – Broad Timeline

The race was originally planned for Saturday 19th but moved to Sunday 20th; again because of the storm. Start times were also modified and this would be expected for a sea swim where tidal conditions change from one day to the next. These were the originally intended start times but as we shall see they were put back half an hour or so on Sunday.

  • 6:30am – Start of IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland, Cork (PRO MALE)
  • 6:31am – Start of IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland, Cork (PRO FEMALE)
  • 6:34am – Start of IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland, Cork (AGE GROUP ATHLETES)  
  • 7:00am – Start of IRONMAN Ireland, Cork 

The storm caused changes to be made to the swim course, first with the swim course being entirely changed for Saturday (but the race not run) and then reverted back to the original course for the rescheduled Sunday event, but with both the Half Ironman (HIM) and Ironman (IM) swim distances set at 1.9km, the normal distance for a HIM swim. The original, longer 3.8km swim for the full Ironman involved two laps and thus the course/route initially used on race day was unchanged albeit shortened for the IM.

The planned 25-minute gap between the two race distance starts is reasonable enough. So we should be looking at the difficulty of the conditions and the nature of the mass start that is typical of these mass participation triathlon events.

Ironman events are hugely popular and have high participation levels with athletes of a high degree of competence. It’s unusual for there to be two deaths in one race. Probably there were a lot of swimmers in the water although it seems that racers were started in small groups of about 6 with groups being based on self-selected swim speeds (this is safe, IMO).

Other Swim Course Information

Local currents are known to be strong. With some very easy research, I found that the race day high tide was 08:35. With my very limited knowledge of these things I would expect that a race would be organised around a slack tide at about 7:30am. I did the Welsh Triathlon National HIM Champs a couple of years back and they specifically waited to start around that time. Today’s Ironman race for Age Groupers (non-professionals) had starts planned for 30 minutes before high tide.

Superficially it seems that tides were accounted for sufficiently well by the organisers. However, we don’t know if rip tides/currents were a factor, these will be highly localised and not necessarily associated with high/low tides.

Cause of Death

Those who died were named locally as Ivan Chittenden (male, 60s) from Toronto 60s, & Brendan Wall (male, 40s) from Solihull. Local media also reports that the two people who died had pre-existing conditions however the post-mortem has not yet happened so I would not trust that information yet.

Final Thoughts

As amateur triathletes do we need to better consider our abilities, choose suitable races and seed appropriately,  or do organisers need to stop mass starts? or perhaps even offer non-Swim alternatives. Perhaps athletes need to provide proof of sea swimming ability or the completion of an HIM before being allowed to start a sea swim HIM?

Ironman will probably now take a long, hard think about allowing novice swimmers to undertake their events where a sea swim is involved. I suspect many of the existing races based on sea swim will continue for commercial reasons.

Competitors and relatives of those who died at the event will no doubt be considering their options, accordingly the Ironman Group must now face up to severe financial and reputational consequences.

 

News Updates:

 

 

Ironman Group in DEEP trouble as Triathlon Ireland denies sanctioning Ironman Ireland event where 2 died

Ironman Diss Triathlon Ireland & Cork Council Diss Ironman

 

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22 thoughts on “2 triathletes die – Ironman Ireland 70.3

  1. Some additional info:

    The 70.3 was due to be yesterday, but due to a storm (Storm Betty) hitting Ireland on Friday night, the race was moved to be the same day as the full. – Storm Betty was an orange-level storm for the south coast of Ireland

    The swim was first moved on Friday to an alternative location when the sea conditions were horrific, but ultimately the race was rescheduled on Saturday morning due to the roads being in bad condition post the storm.

    This morning they changed the timing again once the full ironman swim was shortened, and the full-distance athletes went off basically together.

    As per the Facebook post from Ireland Ireland this morning:

    MPRO – 7:00am
    FPRO – 7:01am
    IM 70.3 AG – 7:04am
    IM AG athletes to follow

    1. thank you @fy.
      what was the alternative location please? tho i think that’s not relevant as it was switched back to the original course????

      FB/IM “Please note that due to the improving weather conditions, the location of the IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland, Cork swim course will revert back to the original course starting at Front Strand. The bike and run courses will stay the same. “

      1. i see you found the link showing the alternative course – When the conditions in the sea where horrific on Saturday morning, the alternate swim location was very swimmable, but still had a very strong current – I think the current was more of the problem than the rough seas

  2. I was there and competed. The swim was delayed an hour past the orginal delay. Kayaks were struggling against the current. It took forever to get all the buoys in the right place. The distance was reduced again minutes before the start, and again mid-race with thousands of athletes in the water, because people couldn’t get to the first buoy due to the swell and strong currents. There were athletes panicking all around me. Due to how late everything was getting, everyone was piled in to the water super quick which made for even more chaos. There is absolute no way the swim should have happened – it’s like the organisers panicked with the late changes and the overall aim of safety first went out the window. Truly horrendous.

  3. I’ve competed a few years back in a comparatively short Sprint triathlon that featured a ~750m swim on the beach. Low tide, 1 meter waves breaking on shallow water. I am just an average swimmer, but I’ve spent summers on the beach since I was born, so diving through braking waves is 2nd nature and took me <1 minute to get to calmer waters and swim. But I clearly remember seeing swimmers ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED with braking waves, even small ones, and some just gave up and walked back to shore. Moral of the story is, if you're not comfortable with the sea, NEVER enter an event on the sea, no matter how good of a pool swimmer you are.

  4. The Sea conditions were very rough with a red flag out saying no swimming. Your article is incorrect saying swim conditions were OK. That swim should never have gone ahead as athletes were struggling to get through first wave that hit them after leaving the shore. Really question safety procedures.
    I was at a half Iron-man race in Wales(not run by Iron-man organisation)last year where my son was competing and several.swimmes including elite racers exited the water after only a few hundred meters. There was a roundabout just ahead of where the athletes mounted their bike and when I asked an organiser where was the official to notify on coming traffic he said we cannot do that as its open roads. The athletes were trying to moun8tgeir bike as the approached the roundabout so they would not all be watching so I stood there myself and waved down traffic from.the Island in the middle.
    Really question what the priorities are by these organisation sometimes.
    I have video that I cannot post here showing the Sea and how rough it was.

    1. thank you i will revisit the wording
      if you post the link to the video i can try to include it in the article. (some automatically show, others like my FB link don’t always automatically work)

  5. This is a terrible incident for the lives of those lost and their loved ones. The conditions were tough and swimmers needed to have knowledge and experience of how to swim in them. There is an element of personal responsibility to train for the course and potential conditions. The video above shows swimmers who did not know what to do. They plod along and let the waves hit them, when they should run and swim under the waves. Under a safety first policy, the swim should have been cancelled – as it’s obvious that a certain number of participants would struggle – or made optional, providing participants the option to take a large time penalty and continue with the bike and run leg or to do the swim if they felt confident. There is lessons to be learnt here to make the sport safer without diluting the challenge and competitive aspects.

  6. Please be mindful of accuracy in your reporting. Mr. Chittenden did not “decide” to enter the race after being on a holiday. An experienced triathelete, he traveled to Ireland for the sole purpose of being in the race. There is no known pre-existing condition in his health. It is unclear who would have suggested such a thing but perhaps it would have been sensible to await the outcome of today’s post mortem before jumping to such conclusions which, no doubt, take the focus away from race organizers and their decision to continue with the race despite the conditions. This tragedy is bad enough for the families of these two men without journalists making unfounded statements without having all the information.
    Judith Nicoll
    Toronto, Canada

    1. You seem to be cutting and pasting that comment
      nowhere did i ever say Mr Chittenden decided to enter the race after being on holiday
      I specifically say that we should not trust the local reports and that we should wait for the post mortum

      hopefully, some of the wide range of information sources I include above might be useful to the families should they wish to bring a legal case against the organisers.

      1. I wasn’t commenting on just what you had written (and I apologize if that was the implication) but rather, on the many comments that had circulated this morning across the media in Ireland and the U.K. We are very appreciative of your deep dive in your later comments which confirmed Ivan’s experience as well as the unusual circumstances of yesterday including Triathlon Ireland’s position. Thank you.

  7. I am an Ironman, and have completed 4 Ironman and 9 Ironman 70.3’s, and in my experience I have met individuals who have either just come off hectic medication a few days prior to a race, and I have even met someone who had never set foot in the ocean in his life before, but assured me he would be fine because he can easily swim 3kms in the pool – needless to say that individual didn’t even start the race because at the test swim he had a panic attack 100m into the sea and his entire race was over before he had even started. I know of people who have died in the swim and it’s all because of pre-conditions that they were suffering, some were on heart medication, some had nasty flu, and the list goes on. It’s these IDIOTS that think they are super human and that nothing will happen to them because “they will be fine”, and then they think of all the time spent training and the 1000s that they have spent getting to race day, so they will go against everything just because they know they will be fine. It’s these IDIOTS that are the selfish ones, because they in turn are the ones that have incidents in the swim, which in turn reflects on to the organisers… and no, it is not the organisers fault that that individual died in the swim, it’s on the athlete because he took the risk and thought he’d beat the odds. I do however believe that Ironman should have an entry qualification process… if you enter a 70.3 you need to have competed and completed an Olympic triathlon within a year of the race entered, and have sea experience if you’re going to swim in the ocean. If you entering Ironman, you need to have completed a 70.3… with these entry requirements the quality of athlete will be better and far better for the organiser. The athlete also needs to sign a waiver stating that he is in sound state of mind, physically and medically before starting the race, because the organiser should not be held responsible for any athlete’s poor decision – it’s on the athlete! We have too many selfish people in this world where they just think of themselves and not the consequences of their actions. There are many weak swimmers who would just manage a sea swim, but when conditions are now slightly more difficult the organisers have shortened swims because of them… this is not fair on the stronger swimmers but because the organiser is more concerned of having an incident happening in the swim, they shorten it… if people are scared of the swim, they should not enter a triathlon… people should stop being selfish. I raced a 70.3 in East London, South Africa, where the waves were so high I literally came crashing down after each wave, it was insane how wild the conditions were… but the race happened and there were no incidents…. sadly those days are over because we have too many snowflakes in this world where if they weak, they get the swim shortened and then they happy, and stuff the majority of the athletes who could cope in those conditions. I am however in full support of an organiser who shortens, or cancels the swim when the conditions warrant it – for ALL swimmers, and not just a handful of snowflakes… It would be very interesting to get a full medical report on those two athletes who passed away.

    1. I hear you.
      some people do have conditions they are unaware of and race organisers must accept some responsibilities regarding safety. In any case, they (Ironman) would not be able to wriggle out of potentially negligent actions. Certainly in English law you cannot exclude your liability for your negligence.

  8. Even pro athletes suffer accidents and die sometimes, during pro events (see Tour de Suisse 2023). Accidents sometimes happen due to bad luck, which is not necessarily limited to lightweights, chokers or weeds…

  9. Hi,
    I did the event and my sincere sympathies to the families of the 2 gents, Brendan and Ivan, who lost their lives. It’s so very sad for everyone involved.
    The one thing I’d like to point out re the swim is that once you got past the shore break, it wasn’t actually that bad. Yes, there was a drag to the left that pulled swimmers away from the first red buoy, so you had to adjust your swim line. Many swimmers did not seem to be able to do this or indeed even recognise the necessity to this. The problem really arose when swimmers got pushed so far away from that buoy that they couldn’t make it around it due to the nature of the drag. Once you got around the buoy it was literally like surfing back to the swim finish line. All people had to do was get in a streamline position and boom, you were rocketing.
    Swimmers gathered in these big groups, shouting and panicking. It was so surreal. Many just wanted to be pulled out and were shouting for help but the way they gathered, it was really difficult for kayakers to get through the crowds to pull them out.
    It’s a terrible situation for the sport in Ireland and I’m sickened by Triathlon Irelands statement released last night. Pure ass covering after the horse has bolted!!!
    I wasn’t aware of the deaths of Brendan and Ivan until I finished the race and I was devastated by the news. I only hope that the fact they were doing something they loved brings their families some
    comfort. RIP

    1. thank you for sharing your experience.
      one of those who died, Mr Chittenden was an experienced Ironman and HIM athlete. I don’t know about the other guy.
      If this could happen to someone like him then, to me, it seems patently obvious that many others of MUCH lesser abilities were also put at risk.

      I guess that Triathlon Ireland thought it was not safe and hence why it pulled its sanctioning of the race before it started.

      https://the5krunner.com/2023/08/21/ironman-in-deep-trouble-as-triathlon-ireland-denies-sanctioning-ironman-ireland/

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