Herman van Straten.

Durban - Health tests look set to become a prerequisite for qualifying for sport events, to avoid deaths such as that at last weekend’s aQuelle Midmar Mile.

The Midmar Mile, unlike the Comrades and Two Oceans marathons and the Dusi Canoe Marathon, which ends today, does not even have qualifying events, let alone health questionnaires.

Organiser Wayne Ridden – devastated by the death of Herman van Straten, whose body was recovered on Thursday evening – said the idea of making qualifying events a requirement had been considered. However, he pointed out Van Straten had, in effect, shown he was capable of doing the race, having done it in 34 minutes last year.

Nick Mellet, who died in the race in 2011, had swum in a seeding event beforehand.

Ridden said seeding events “encourage swimmers to start swimming earlier in the season and build up their fitness, as well as allowing us as organisers to rank everyone when we come to seed them into the five batches per race, which makes it a safer event for all competitors”.

He shared the running fraternity’s concern at why people aged between 40 and 50 were so vulnerable. “We have not had a novice (fatality),” he said.

He said the Midmar Mile would face up to a 40 percent reduction in entries, if qualifying swims were required.

Swimmers who cannot swim 1 600m in a pool in under 50 minutes are advised against entering.

Also, the organisers reserve the right to accept or reject entries.

Jeremy Boulter, who organises the medical portfolio for the Comrades Marathon, hopes to introduce a health questionnaire, on a voluntary basis and as a pilot project, for this year’s race.

“Comrades has had six deaths in 87 years,” he told The Independent on Saturday.

“It is not a lot, considering the numbers of people who run it and the extreme nature of the event, but we want to reduce it to zero.”

A health questionnaire is already a compulsory requirement for the Two Oceans.

Its architect, UCT professor of sports medicine and exercise science Martin Schwellnus, said while it was too early to disclose results of the study driven by the 12-page questionnaire, two years’ readings showed a more than 50 percent reduction in serious complications.

Meanwhile, research continues to find out what causes athletes to fall victim to cardiac and other problems during marathons.

“There’s often an underlying, undiagnosed cardiac problem, but what triggers that problem at that time, at that race?” asked Boulter.

As happened last year, volunteers will enter a research tent to undergo cardiac tests after completing the Comrades Marathon.

Boulter and other scientists stress that efforts to combat unexpected race fatalities should centre around education and prevention.

“The aim is not to prevent people from running. It’s to prevent medical problems and disasters,” Boulter said.

What is also important is that runners should know not to take part in marathons when they are suffering acute illnesses, such as flu, he said.

Prospective Two Oceans runners are regularly asked about their health via e-mail and advised to make a good decision on race day, said Schwellnus.

- Schwellnus will be speaking at the “Designed to Run” workshop on Tuesday at the Elangeni Hotel, in Durban.

For further information, visit http://www.twooceansmarathon. org.za/news - The Independent on Saturday