Most Deaths During Triathlons Occur During The Swim Interview with:

Kevin M. Harris, MD Director, Fellowship Training; Director, Echocardiography Allina Health, Minnesota

Dr. Harris

Kevin M. Harris, MD
Director, Fellowship Training; Director, Echocardiography
Allina Health, Minnesota What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Triathlon is a popular endurance sport which combines swimming, bicycling and running. We investigated the death rate in the triathlon since its inception in the United States in 1985 through 2016. Specifically we were able to look at the rate of death in USAT races from 2006 to 2016.

We identified 135 deaths/cardiac arrests over the time period. 85% of victims were male and victims averaged 47 years. Most deaths and cardiac arrests occurred in the swim. 15 of the deaths were traumatic occurring during the bike portion. The rate of death was 1.74 per 100,000 participants. The death rate was significantly higher for males than females and increased significantly for men > 40 years. On autopsy, nearly half of those victims were found to have significant cardiovascular disease. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: There is a risk to the triathlon. Though these events are not common, participants, particularly males > 40 years,  should be aware of the risks. Most of the risk occurs during the swim. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We are interested in improving the safety of the triathlon. A better understanding of the factors leading to successful rescue will be important moving forward. The swim portion poses inherent challenges in the abilities of rescuers to identify and transfer victims for advanced resuscitation. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Harris KM, Creswell LL, Haas TS, Thomas T, Tung M, Isaacson E, et al. Death and Cardiac Arrest in U.S. Triathlon Participants, 1985 to 2016A Case Series. Ann Intern Med. [Epub ahead of print 19 September 2017] doi: 10.7326/M17-0847

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions. 

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Last Updated on September 19, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD