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Special demands in open water swimming

The death of a participant in yesterday's Singapore International Triathlon has cast the spotlight again on safety in endurance events, especially those that involve swimming in the open sea.

Yesterday, 42-year-old Stephen Begley died after encountering difficulties in the 1.5km swim leg of the standard distance relay event.

Last year, medical experts urged athletes to get themselves screened for any health issues before going for a race, and to ensure they are fit and fully prepared on race day following the death of a participant at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.

Agreed Phoebe Kee, 17, runner-up in the women's category at the national triathlon championships, held concurrently with the Singapore International Triathlon: "If you know that you're not feeling well, even if it's something small, just listen to your body and not do the race.

"It's better to skip one race than to lose your life."

Seasoned local endurance athletes also warned of the unique demands of swimming in the sea where conditions are drastically different from that in a pool.

Apart from the usual hazards such as weather, pollution and wildlife like jellyfish, even proficient swimmers may struggle against the currents.

Said national open-water swimmer Benedict Boon, who represented Singapore at last month's SEA Games: "In the pool, you have the lane ropes to help to cut the waves. But in the sea, you have to deal with the waves.

"When I first did open-water swimming, I was breathing towards the direction of where the waves were coming from. The water was just coming at me."

Marathoner Mok Ying Ren, who won the 2007 SEA Games triathlon gold, also warned of the potential danger of swimming with hundreds of competitors: "It gets crowded with people kicking your face and your goggles might come off. It can be a shock to newcomers and cause panic if you're not used to it."

While the fatal incident cast an unfortunate pall over the event, triathletes are not deterred from taking part in future races.

Said local triathlete Zacharias Low: "As long as you're aware of pre-existing conditions, triathlons are relatively safe."

Alvin Chia

Ho Cai Jun