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Monday, March 4, 2013

Ross Ehlinger: Nearly 50 Triathlon Deaths in a Decade

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge Ross Ehlinger, left, pictured with his wife and children
  • Ross Ehlinger, left, pictured with his wife and children

Most San Franciscans probably couldn't name the top finishers of this weekend's Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. Sadly, however, the name Ross Ehlinger looms large -- because he's the 46-year-old man who died shortly after leaping into the frigid water.

USA Triathlon, the sport's national governing body, listed the top American finishers in its writeup of the weekend's action. But it didn't mention Ehlinger.

The grueling nature of triathlons winnows out all but the fittest athletes. Even still, a notable number of competitors, like Ehlinger, have fallen during sanctioned races. Per a USA Triathlon study, nearly 50 triathletes have died during or immediately after a race in the past decade alone.

See Also: Ross Ehlinger Dies During Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon

Is that a lot of deaths? Yes. But is it a minuscule percentage of competitors? Also yes.

Between 2003 and 2011, 43 competitors died during or just after races, one spectator died in a bike wreck, and one athlete died during a "USA Triathlon-sanctioned training clinic."

In that time, participation in sanctioned triathlons has soared. No data exists stretching back to '03, but 276,458 athletes competed in 2006 and 537,317 did in '11. The tally grows every year.

Excluding the spectator and training clinic deaths, the fatality rate is about 1-in-76,000 athletes. As for how these poor souls died:

Among the 43 race-related athlete deaths, five were traumatic, caused by injuries sustained in cycling crashes; the remaining 38 deaths were non-traumatic. Of the 38 non-traumatic fatalities, 30 occurred during the swim, three occurred during the bike, three occurred during the run, and two occurred after an athlete had completed a race.
Ehlinger's cause of death is still under investigation, but race officials are chalking it up to an undiagnosed heart condition. If so, that would certainly fit the above data. So would Ehlinger's age and gender. Thirty-five of the deceased athletes were male, and the largest plurality were aged 40 to 49.

Condolences to Ehlinger's survivors and loved ones. How painful it must be to watch a beloved family member or friend reduced to a statistic.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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