Fran Crippen, a medal-winning open water swimmer on the U.S. team, told his coach he wasn't feeling well late in a race before he died in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
The 26-year-old Crippen was competing in the FINA open water 10-kilometer World Cup in Fujairah, south of Dubai, but failed to finish and was found in the water two hours later, according to Swimming World.
The magazine said the water temperature was in the mid- to high-80s, and several swimmers were treated for heat exhaustion after the race.
FINA President Julio Maglione of Uruguay said he was told that after eight kilometers Crippen told his coach that he wasn't feeling well.
"He continued and he was found in the deep of the water," Maglione said from Acapulco, Mexico, where he was attending Olympic meetings.
Maglione said it was the first death in any FINA event.
"It's like (what) happens sometimes in soccer, in basketball, in other sports. In one moment, one athlete dies," he said.
Maglione said FINA has opened an investigation.
"All was under strict rules that exist in our competition. All was absolutely correct," he said. "It was an accident, a terrible accident."
In addition to Crippen, Maglione said three other swimmers - two U.S. women and one Brazilian - were taken to a hospital.
"They are not in any kind of problem," he said.
Fellow competitors all described the conditions as unusually hot but would not comment specifically about Crippen's death.
"These are very hot conditions for swimming," said Thomas Lurz of Germany, who won the men's race. "But I went into the water knowing what I needed to do. I had to conserve my energy and save my power during the first two laps so that I could make the push later in the race."
Evgeny Drattsev of Russia, who came in second, admitted he had never swum in such warm conditions before.
"The water was really hot and it was a kind of new experience for me here," he said. "But after coming in second in Montreal, I had it at the back of my mind that I could push myself."
Swimmers were the first to respond when Crippen failed to finish the race. Several returned to the water to search for Crippen followed soon after by a local dive team. Crippen's body was found just before the last buoy on the 2-kilometer triangular course, race organizers said.
He was rushed back to shore and transported to Fujairah Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Crippen's death has raised the possibility that a 15-kilometer open water grand prix that is supposed to be held at the same venue on Wednesday could be canceled.
Ahmed al-Falasi, president of the UAE Swimming Federation, said the organizing committee will meet on Sunday to decide how to proceed.
USA Swimming said coaches, athletes, members and employees were "deeply saddened" by Crippen's death.
"Fran was a champion swimmer but more importantly, a tremendous person, and he will be remembered for so many extraordinary qualities," the organization said in a statement. "We will continue to work with FINA, the meet host and others to determine how this tragedy occurred."
The U.S. Olympic Committee said, "We send our condolences and deepest sympathies to the Crippen family as well as to our entire swimming community. While details of this tragedy are still forthcoming, we shall keep this outstanding young athlete and his family in our thoughts and prayers."
Crippen was the silver medalist in the 10K at the Pan Pacific Championships in August, earned a bronze medal in the 10K at the 2009 world championships, was national champion in the 5K in 2009, and won a gold medal in the 10K at the 2007 Pan American Games.
Crippen finished fourth in the 10K and fifth in the 5K at this year's world championships. He competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials.
On his Facebook page, he posted Thursday that he was "in Dubai for the final World Cup of the season and then off to Italy for vacation!"
The page now has many messages of condolence from friends and fellow swimmers.
"Fran you will be missed you were the best of the best," said 2000 Olympic silver medalist Kristy Kowal.
Crippen's family is well-known in the swimming world. Maddy Crippen competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Teresa Crippen is a member of the U.S. team
"He was our hero," said Maddy Crippen, reached at her parents' home in Conshohocken. "We loved him very much, and we'll all miss him."