Fran's Legacy Lives On
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Three years ago, the eyes of the swimming world were pointed towards the Middle East. Fran Crippen died on October 23rd during an open water World Cup race in the United Arab Emirates. We were left with more questions than answers: How could this happen during a sanctioned race? Where were the safety boats? How hot was the water? How? Where? Why?
Three years later, while there are still improvements to make, some progress is happening. Fran’s death ignited a campaign that still continues to improve racing conditions during open water competitions. Parallel to that movement, though, Fran’s legacy for his passion for the sport and love for the water continues to inspire swimmers around the world and in the United States. Just last week, I spoke to his teammate and recent World Cup champion Emily Brunneman about Fran. She dedicated her award in his honor. He was her mentor. He taught her how to swim open water races. He continues to leave a legacy of a person and swimmer who was kind, passionate, and who loved the water.
Almost to the day of his death, three years later, the swimming world’s eyes once again turned to the same small region of the world. Reports, screenshots, and allegations have emerged that Israeli swimmers were discriminated against during the Doha World Cup. Flags that were taken down or whited-out during TV broadcasts. Names that weren’t announced. Google the story, read the reports. There is much more we need to learn about what happened, and who is responsible.
It’s not only disappointing that politics, in this instance, was merged with athletics on one of our sport’s biggest stages, but it’s against the essence of the Olympic movement itself. The Olympics’ intent is to bring the world together under the banner of competition and togetherness, not under the banner of opposing nations and/or theologies. It’s the one time every four years when nations can put aside politics for two weeks, and be human beings. It’s a celebration of what “being human” means in the physical sense – a celebration of physical diversity, and the accomplishments of the remarkable human body and spirit.
Recently, this Olympic movement has been viewed as a political opportunity. Some have called for boycotts of the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games. Some want the United States to stay home. While the theory behind this campaign is valid – particularly in light of Russia’s stance on human rights issues – boycotting the Olympics has already proven to enact no real, meaningful political changes. History often repeats itself, but it doesn’t have to. Boycotts punish athletes. That’s it.
Now, another political move makes headlines in our own sport. While FINA has said this won’t happen again, you have to wonder how this whiting out of flags during TV broadcasts and alleged removing of flags around the arena was collaborated among announcers, TV tech graphics workers, and natatorium staff. And who knew. Once again, we’re left with more questions than answers.
All I know is, three years after Fran’s death, it’s beyond disheartening to see there’s still significant work to be done, not just in water safety, but in spreading the spirit of the Olympic movement to all Olympic sport competitions.
Fran’s legacy will live on as long as we continue to make it live on. And in the wake of this disturbing, unrelated news on the anniversary of his death, I think it’s a perfect opportunity to say his name, remember him, and everything he stood for. Fran Crippen’s legacy will not be forgotten, just like the true spirit of the Olympics will not be forgotten.