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Reader Submitted Ironman Ireland Experiences

First-hand accounts of the tragedy at Ironman Ireland

Reader: I am an Irish man and I lined out for the full distance IM in Cork on Sunday morning. The 70.3 was due to run on the Saturday but this was cancelled and moved to Sunday with the full distance, due to a storm hitting the coast on Friday afternoon and running until 5am or 6am Saturday morning. South west winds gusted above 100 kilometres per hour from 10pm Friday and increased throughout the night, gathering speed across the Atlantic Ocean, with high seas battering this south western coast line. It takes about 4 or 5 days for a sea swell to settle to any normal level following a storm like this.

On Saturday roads were impassable throughout this region, with fallen debris and flooding, Cork county council , along with local residents, worked tirelessly to clear these roads for Sundays race. Saturday winds continued to gust above 70kph and swells increased as the day went on. It was very difficult to comprehend how any swim would take place on Sunday and I expected the swim to be cancelled or moved to a sheltered location in Youghal bay, where the swim ends. The swim course here is unusual, you start on a beach, swim against a strong current to the first buoy and then in the usual rectangular shape, with the tide. You then go away from land and round a lighthouse into Youghal bay and exit on a beach next to the harbour wall. Last year this was an amazing swim in calm conditions.

When we arrived at the beach on Sunday morning the winds were gusting high and the swell was very strong. The swim course for the full was cut to 1.9k because it was too hard to swim into the current, prevailing winds and crashing waves. The rescue boats and support kayaks were struggling to stay in position and in some cases upright, it was very clear to me at this point that the swim should be called off. The swim start was delayed and delayed, with little communication to athletes. It was clear that there was conversations going on about these adverse conditions and the potential risks involved. Suddenly we had an announcement, pros get ready, followed by 70.3’s and full will leave last. Waves got bigger as they were about to fire the gun, we were then told of technical issues with timing chips, we had to hold again. Then they came back and called the pros to get ready.

The gun went, pros swam out and the crowd cheered. Suddenly they all got hit by a 10ft wave and got thrown backwards, the crowd were silenced. They fought hard to get to the first mark. Once around this they were surfing to the next buoy and into Youghal bay. The 70.3’s went next and they were wiped out one after another by wave after wave. It looked like carnage in the water. They couldn’t make the first buoy and scrambled about. Many turned around and got back to shore, with spectators coming to help.

The sense of panic in the water and on the shore was overwhelming. They should have stopped it there but continued to push athletes out into this mass wash of people. Eventually the message came over the speakers to say course shortened, aim for the more easterly buoy. People were in the water aiming for separate buoys at this stage. Rescue boats were battling through this crowd to pull out people in distress, but the boats were battered by waves and the rescue personnel too were now at risk. Again this should have been stopped at this stage but they called up the full distance athletes to enter the water. I am ashamed to say that I entered the water, I so badly wanted my first full distance medal that I had invested two years or training and hard work in. I was an idiot but I had an expectation in the back of my mind that IM would have me if I got into difficulty. I am a strong swimmer and knew I could do this. When I got onto the shore I was starting from rocks and i was met with a 10-12 ft wave and landed in the rocks with 8 or 10 others, this continued 3 more times. Break in the waves came and I went for it. Once in the sea I could only breast stroke out to the buoy because waves threw us about. At this stage I realised this was real danger and people were struggling all about me, we were drifting fast, there was no sight of support personnel through the swell, we felt alone and exposed. The sense of panic in the air was so intense. Big men were crying. We couldn’t make the buoy, there was 100’s scrambling for it and making no progress, those that made it around the buoy swam straight into those aiming for it. This was absolute chaos. I grabbed some men around me and said leave this buoy and head for the lighthouse, it’s too dangerous. Soon I was surfing and felt more secure but others continued to panic, i stopped and offered help and words of encouragement where possible. I made it to the exit slip (averaging 1.24 per 100m, the drift was so strong) and struggled to stand a the exit as the waves rolled in. As i got to the slip I could see medics frantically working on a young man, out of respect I will make no further comment on this but the memory will haunt me for life. I own a sailboat and captain a crew, I would not take my boat and crew out in the torrid conditions we faced on Sunday. IM made a call to put 2k athletes into this water, knowing it was not appropriate conditions. The only reason I believe they made this call is because this would have been the 2nd event in 3 where the swim was cancelled and they would have issues selling the event again, this is my personal opinion. There are questions to be answered here.

I have always expected that the athletes safety on a course was IM’s paramount and primary function first and foremost, this was not the case on Sunday in Cork, if it was these fatalities could have been avoided. RIP our athletes Brendan and Ivan and condolences to their families and friends. The current actions of finger pointing and deflection by IM is shameful. Stand up and be accountable to the situation. Let these men be laid to rest with the dignity they deserve, honour them, don’t insult them. How can anyone be expected to sign up for a race where the organisers behave in such an irresponsible and inappropriate manner, how??? I am posting this message here as it is an international forum and I hope this message can be heard around the world so IM get the message that they are not bigger then their athletes and they can not put their brand before us. So Brendan and Ivan’s loss is not in vein.

Reader: I participated in the full distance IM in Cork. The 70.3 athletes went first and it was clear they were struggling with the current and waves. Some were being pushed back into the rocks. Advice was given to aim for the second buoy after the turn buoy with the idea being the current would to take you to the buoy. We started about 45 minutes later and I used dolphin dives to get out having learnt the technique competing in triathlons in Southern California. As I was getting close to the buoy, other athletes out there were shouting to turn immediately and not go to the buoy. I did this and the rest of the swim was fine aided by the current. I saw the paramedics performing CPR on one of the two athletes who sadly died.

Hindsight is always 20:20 but the swim should have been cancelled.

My thoughts and sympathies are with family and friends of Ivan and Brendan.

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