Fran Crippen, a medal-winning open-water swimmer on the U.S. national team, died Saturday during a 10-kilometer World Cup race in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. He was 26.
Several swimmers returned to the water to search for Crippen after he failed to finish the race. They were followed by a dive team. Crippen's body was found just before the last buoy on the triangular course, race organizers said.
Swimmers described the conditions as unusually hot but would not comment specifically about Crippen's death.
"I've known him from the time he was 14.... It's horrible, just devastating," Bill Rose, coach of the Mission Viejo Nadadores club team, told The Times on Saturday. Crippen had trained in Mission Viejo through 2008, when the Pennsylvania native went back East to be closer to home.
"I don't know of a swimmer that is any more popular with his fellow athletes.... This is going to be a major, major blow to USA Swimming."
Rose, who was not at the race, said he heard that Crippen started having problems and fell back around the third 2-kilometer loop of the five-loop course. Julio Maglione, president of FINA, the sport's international governing body, said he was told Crippen told his coach after eight kilometers that he wasn't feeling well.
Maglione said FINA has started an investigation.
Crippen was born April 17, 1984, in Conshohocken, Pa., and was part of a well-known swimming family. His sister Maddy was an Olympic swimmer in 2000. Another sister, Claire, was an All-American swimmer at the University of Virginia, and his youngest sister, Teresa, swims for the University of Florida.
Crippen was an 11-time All-American and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer of the year competing for the University of Virginia. According to a biography on his website, Crippen moved from the pool to open-water swimming in 2006.
He won the 10K swim at the 2007 Pan American Games but fell short of qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the first time open-water swimming was included in the Games. He was the silver medalist in the 10K at the Pan Pacific championships in August and won a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2009 world championships.
"He was our hero," Maddy Crippen said at her parents' home. "We loved him very much, and we'll all miss him."
Crippen is also survived by his parents, Patricia and Pete.
Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.