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Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Family of Fran Crippen weighs action

By Bonnie D. Ford
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Attorneys for the parents of elite open-water swimmer Fran Crippen, who drowned two years ago during a race in the United Arab Emirates, are weighing legal action against the sport's international and national governing bodies.

A summons filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Monday by Peter and Patricia Crippen, "individually and as Administrators of the Estate of Francis Crippen," states only that a personal injury case is being initiated and that the amount in question is more than $50,000. The defendants are Switzerland-based FINA, which sanctioned the race where Fran Crippen died, and USA Swimming, which oversees the sport in this country.

The document is not a complaint and contains no details about any claims. Such filings are often made to ensure the statute of limitations does not expire.

Pete Crippen referred all questions to an attorney representing the couple, Gerald McHugh of the Philadelphia law firm of Raynes McCarty. In an email to ESPN.com, McHugh called the filing a "technical step."

"A summons was filed for the purpose of preserving the Crippen family's rights while they continue to review the recent rule changes enacted by FINA in the wake of Fran's death," McHugh wrote.

Fran Crippen was 26 and one of the top athletes in his sport when he drowned near the finish line of a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) Grand Prix race in Fujairah on Oct. 23, 2010. Reports commissioned by FINA and USA Swimming found that extreme heat and a glaring lack of adequate safety measures by race organizers contributed to Crippen's death.

Both FINA and USA Swimming commissioned independent reports and passed reforms in the wake of the tragedy. A number of top athletes and coaches have said FINA's reforms are not sufficient.

Perhaps the most controversial issue is the continued absence of a firm maximum-water-temperature rule in FINA events. FINA's recommended maximum, 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 degrees Fahrenheit), is considered too high by many swimmers, and some withdrew from the 25-kilometer race at last year's world championships in Shanghai to protest conditions they said were unsafe.

Funding and coaching for American open water swimmers became an issue at USA Swimming's recent Congress, prompting Pete Crippen to write the organization's leadership, and the question of support was eventually resolved in the swimmers' favor.

A USA Swimming spokeswoman said the national governing body would have no comment on the court filing. There was no response to a request for comment from FINA.