After Ironman athlete deaths, officials dispute whether safety warning came before or after swim

Days after two men died during the swim portion of an Ironman race in Ireland, race organizers and the country’s official governing body disagree on whether safety concerns were made clear before or after athletes got into the water.

Ireland’s Brendan Wall, 45, and Toronto’s Ivan Chittenden, 64, died separately during the 1.9-kilometre swim portion of the Ironman event in Cork’s Youghal Harbour, roughly 270 kilometres south of Dublin.

They had been competing in a so-called half Ironman event, which also features a 90-kilometre bike course and a 21.1-kilometre run. Videos of the swim portion posted online show a crowd of swimmers heading into the choppy bay on a grey, windy day.

In a statement after the men’s deaths, Triathlon Ireland said safety officials did not sanction — or officially approve — the event on Sunday because poor weather meant the water was not safe enough to meet its standards.

It said that decision was confirmed with race organizers ahead of time.

“Due to adverse conditions on the day, before the start of the race, Triathlon Ireland Technical Officials confirmed to the race organizers that it was not possible to sanction the race,” wrote CEO Darren Coombes.

“As there is an investigation ongoing, at this stage it would not be appropriate for us to make any further comment only to state that Triathlon Ireland will provide any assistance that the authorities require.”

In its own statement, Ironman said Triathlon Ireland didn’t tell organizers it wouldn’t be sanctioning the race until after it had ended.

“Several hours after the swim was completed, they communicated to the onsite Ironman Ireland officials that they would not approve the sanctioning for the event,” an email read.

Race had been delayed a day

Sporting events are sanctioned to confirm with athletes, coaches and the general public that the event has met local requirements to run safely and fairly. As the country’s governing body, Triathlon Ireland would have been the organization to officially approve the Ironman in Cork.

Ironman said the race had been pushed back one day from Saturday because severe weather created safety issues. Organizers also decided to shorten the swim portion.

“On the morning of Sunday 20 August, Ironman Ireland officials and the specific on-swim safety team carried out all standard safety protocol checks that are completed at every race and determined water conditions were safe for the swim to take place,” the email read.

“While conditions were improved from Saturday, out of an abundance of safety, it was decided to shorten the swim course for both races.”

An online obituary for Chittenden said he was a seasoned triathlete who’d competed around the world.

“A long-time runner, Ivan became an endurance athlete in his early 50s,” it read.

“He competed in Ironman races across the globe, from Canada to Zell am See, Austria, and completed all six of the World Marathon Majors — Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City and Tokyo.”

Chittenden leaves behind a wife and two step-children. Wall was from Ireland but had lived in the United Kingdom.

Both Triathlon Ireland and Ironman offered condolences to the men’s families. They said an investigation is underway.

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