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Grieving for Fran Crippen, swimmer who died in U.A.E. competition

October 23, 2010 | 12:19 pm

Francis Crippen swims Swimmer Fran Crippen, who died Saturday during an open-water race in the United Arab Emirates, was a part of  Bill Rose's team at Mission Viejo only for about three years, but his impact on the program and the legendary swim coach was lasting.

"I’ve known him from the time he was 14," said an emotional Rose of Crippen during a telephone interview with The Times on Saturday morning.

"It’s horrible, just devastating," Rose said of the death of the 26-year-old swimmer earlier in the day at the 10K open-water race. "He swam with us from 2006 to 2008. And he came back many times.

"I don’t know of a swimmer that is any more popular with his fellow athletes. He was so popular.  This is going to be a major, major blow to USA Swimming. It’s going to continue to unfold."

Rose said he believed open-water swimming would be changed because of "this kind of tragedy" and that there would be "repercussions felt in the sport."

One of the emerging issues appears to be the race conditions, including water temperature reported to have been around 86 degrees. Rose, who was not at the race, said he heard that Crippen started having problems and fell back around the third loop of a five-loop course.

"Anybody else would have got out of the race, if it got as bad as it did," Rose said. "The bottom line was he kept going. It wasn’t in him to stop.

"All of a sudden he wasn’t there and nobody noticed it. Questions started going around: 'Where’s Fran? We’ve got to go find him.' "

Rose said he heard two swimmers, Christine Jennings and Eva Fabian, could not finish the race and had to be pulled out and treated at the hospital for dehydration. He understood they were both OK.

Despite his grief, Rose wanted to provide a fuller picture of Crippen, the swimmer from Philadelphia who would talk to "everyone and everybody."  He told a story about the recent Pan Pacific open-water event in Long Beach in August.

"To give you an idea of who he was, he was swimming and one of the other USA athletes was sick and fell back," Rose said. "Here [Crippen] was, fighting for the championship, and he went to the back of the pack to make sure his teammate ... He wanted to make sure his friend was OK."

-- Lisa Dillman

Photo: Francis "Fran" Crippen competes on his way to winning a silver medal in the men's 10k open water final on the last day of the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships in Long Beach on Aug. 22, 2010. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images