JINSHAN CITY, China --- When Alex Meyer pulled out before the start of the 25-kilometer race at the world championships Saturday, the U.S. swimmer did so with good reason: Teammate Fran Crippen died in a race in similarly warm water last year.
As the open water race began and one swimmer after another quit, Meyer questioned why swimming's governing body was risking a repeat of last year's tragedy.
"It's like, did you not learn your lesson? Do you not remember what happened last time?" he said.
The men's and women's races were moved up to a 6 a.m. start in an attempt to stage them in cooler conditions. But the water was already 87 degrees, just under the suggested "unsafe" point of 88.
As the morning wore on, the water temperature reached 88 and the sun began beating down on the course. The air temperature was 90 degrees with 68 percent humidity by the time the race finished.
By that point, 10 of the 29 men who started the race had quit, as had four of the 21 female starters.
Defending men's champion Valerio Cleri, of Italy, left the water just after four hours, saying it was "too hot and too dangerous" to continue.
"There's not enough attention on the athletes," Cleri said. "There should not have been a race here. The jury was irresponsible."
Crippen, a six-time U.S. national champion, died in October near the end of a 10K World Cup event in the United Arab Emirates.
Following the race, FINA issued a new recommendation that races should not be held when water temperature exceeds 88 degrees. It was 84 at the start of the October race.
"What's the point in making rules and recommendations if you're just going to blow them off at events like this?" Meyer said.
Dennis Miller, FINA's liaison official for open water swimming, responded to criticism by suggesting that some of the competitors should have been better prepared for the conditions.
"There were obviously a group of athletes who were better prepared than others," he said. "The majority of the swimmers finished."
Saturday's race was won by Peter Stoychev, of Bulgaria, who completed the course in 5 hours, 10 minutes, 39.8 seconds. He said he felt fine during the race, but when the temperature hit 88, he added: "No need to discuss. It's time to end."