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After seven years of planning, the New York area’s first Ironman triathlon was marred by the death of a 43-year-old male competitor.
“It’s really a shame,” John Korff, local organizer of the Aug. 11 Ironman U.S. Championship, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It’s very sad. It pains you as an organizer. It gets you in your gut on a very personal level.”
The South China Morning Post identified the competitor who died as Andy Naylor, who had been a member of the Hong Kong Police Force since 1992. He’s survived by his wife and three daughters, the newspaper said, and the family plans to hold a funeral in Britain followed by a memorial in Hong Kong. An accomplished long-distance runner, Naylor a week ago won a long- distance kayak race, the paper said.
The Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement that a 43- year-old officer died while competing in a sporting event in New York while on leave. The officer wasn’t identified in the statement, which said the HKPF is “deeply grieved.”
“We have been in touch with his family and will make every effort to help his family during this time of sadness,” the Hong Kong Police said in the statement.
Race officials, who did not release the name of the competitor who died, said the man experienced “distress” near the conclusion of the 2.4-mile Hudson River swim leg in the 140.6-mile (226-kilometer) event. Andrew Naylor is listed as 43 and from Kowloon, Hong Kong, according to Ironman’s website, which shows he didn’t complete the race.
The cause of death was unknown and an autopsy will be performed, according to a statement released by Ironman officials.
“Our swim safety personnel were there within seconds,” Korff said. “We can speculate on what happened until the cows come home. I think we were as well prepared as we could be.”
The death comes 13 months after two competitors died during the swim portion of the Olympic-distance New York City Triathlon. That race included a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) swim in the Hudson River.
Cory Terzis, an equity derivatives analyst at Barclays Plc who was participating in his first Ironman-distance triathlon, said the race two days ago was as safe as any event he’s done previously.
“But triathlons bear increased risk in comparison to other types of races,” said Terzis, who suffered bruised ribs and cuts on his nose, arms and torso when a competitor tried to pass him on the bike course and he crashed face-first into a guard rail at about 22 miles per hour.
“It’s heart-wrenching to think about that poor guy,” Terzis, 27, added. “Unfortunately, when it comes to triathlons, you can practice swimming on your own, but you don’t get a chance to swim in open water with 2,000 people kicking and flailing extremities at your face. That’s when panic sets in for some.”
Of 14 deaths that occurred in triathlons between 2006 and 2008, seven of the nine athletes autopsied were shown to have cardiovascular abnormalities, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Korff said it’s hard to prevent such incidents.
Sean Tedesco said he’s competed in more than 50 triathlons over the past eight years and as a resident of East Meadow, New York, especially wanted to be a part of the inaugural Ironman in New York. Tedesco, who teaches swimming and aquatic survival courses as a physical education instructor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on New York’s Long Island, said the swim course was dotted by kayakers and other safety personnel. He didn’t learn another competitor had died until hours after the race.
“You hate to hear those kind of things, especially in a race you were in because it makes it a little bit more real,” the 36-year-old Tedesco, who finished the swim in about 42 minutes, said in a telephone interview. “But sometimes you just can’t predict these things. It happens to inexperienced people, it happens to people who have been doing this sport or other activities for years.”
The event’s swim leg was originally in question after a broken sewer line led to a controlled discharge of 3.4 million gallons of chlorinated raw sewage into the river three days ago. The race was allowed to continue after health officials said the river passed a water quality test.
The swimming portion of the event was followed by a 112- mile bike ride on the closed Palisades Interstate Parkway in New Jersey and New York before finishing with a 26.2-mile run that ended in Manhattan. More than 2,000 competitors finished before midnight.
Jordan Rapp, 32, won the men’s professional race in 8 hours, 11 minutes, 17 seconds. Mary Beth Ellis, 35, won the women’s race in 9 hours, 7 minutes, 46 seconds. Rapp, a Tarrytown, New York native, said the course conditions were difficult, mostly due to high temperatures and humidity.
“This was the hottest run I’ve ever done,” Rapp said in an online interview after the race. “I grew up just a few miles away. This is my hometown and I’ll be damned if someone else was going to come into my city and win.”
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