On anniversary of Crippen's death, safety questions remain

Fran Crippen drowned two years ago today in a 10-kilometer open water race in the United Arab Emirates, and it's still a searingly sad day for his multitude of friends both inside and outside the swimming community.

Dozens of them posted their thoughts on Twitter, including University of Virginia teammate and 2012 Olympian Matt McLean, who wrote, "We miss you and think of you everyday. You're an inspiration to us all and we try and be a little more like you every day. A true hero ... Really can't think of a better possible friend, role model, and mentor than Fran."

Those sentiments are still a comfort to Crippen's family -- his parents, Pete and Pat, and talented swimming sisters Maddy, Claire and Teresa -- on this anniversary. Pete and Pat have always had an open door policy for all their kids' friends, and they'll have lots of company today in their home in suburban Philadelphia.

The Crippens are not the kind of people who stop living. But their son's death feels raw and fresh every time they hear of a safety lapse in an open water race or a fatality in the sport of triathlon. When it looked, briefly, as if elite open water swimmers in the United States might have their funding and coaching support cut, Pete Crippen didn't mince words in an e-mail to the USA Swimming leadership.

"Where is the commitment to open water swimming? Where are the safety concerns for the athletes? Do we have to sacrifice another athlete because USA Swimming does not want to spend the money which is readily available?" Pete Crippen wrote. The issue was ultimately resolved in the swimmers' favor.

In short, the Crippens won't rest until they believe they've done everything they can to ensure no other parents lose a child the way they did. The foundation they set up after Fran's death is devoted to promoting safety and supporting athletes in open water swimming, an extreme sport that masquerades as an adjunct to the pool but couldn't be more different.

The senior Crippens are weighing legal action against both the national and international federations and filed technical paperwork in Philadelphia earlier this month to preserve their right to file a wrongful death lawsuit at a later date. They will not comment on that process, but there is no doubt it would be a painful path for a family that has been steeped in swimming for more than 20 years.