The fourth day of the competition dawned, Saturday, November 15. Annabel would attempt the free immersion 71m, Megumi the constant 56m dive.
It turned out to be an unpredictable and mishap-filled day.
First the shuttle boat broke down, and the judges and crew had to paddle to the comp boat by kayak. Then the comp boat wasn’t positioned correctly. When the comp line was dropped it wasn’t deep enough, and the line and bottom camera dragged on the sandy bottom. Changing the boat’s position and resetting the line took time. The weather had become overcast, and the water was getting choppier as the proceedings dragged on. Finally the line was ready, and the divers approached.
When Annabel reached the comp boat, she was clearly suffering from congested sinuses and unable to equalize. On her first warm-up dive she could barely dive to 4m. On the second warm-up she dove to 20m but, exhausted, resurfaced on her third warm-up after another drop of only 4m.
It was the event’s most critical moment for Annabel’s coach, Matt. He discussed aborting the attempt with the judges, but finally he and Annabel agreed to go ahead with the dive. Annabel flooded seawater into her nasal passages to open up her sinuses. On the fourth warm-up dive she finally equalized and was able to dive deeper. The ocean had become rougher and the comp boat was rocking by now. Waves splashed on her face, but Annabel was suddenly set to go.
She took an incredibly short 2 minutes and 45 seconds to complete the 71m dive, causing observers to think at first that she hadn’t made it. She looked in good form. There was a minute of anticipation-filled silence, and then Annabel was given the OK by judges. She had set another world record at 71m in the free immersion. The dive had been 25 seconds faster than her usual time, according to Matt, even though she slowed twice to equalize on her descent. She had been astoundingly successful despite her stress and physical fatigue, and that this was only her sixth-ever free immersion dive.
This day was a big one for Megumi as well, who had been determined to set a constant weight record. She aimed to dive 56m, or 3m deeper than the Japanese national record. Despite the numerous technical delays, Megumi was calm and warmed up promisingly. She dove in her distinctive way, easily reaching the tag, and surfaced effortlessly with a new record to her name….or so it seemed !
Finally the fifth, and last, day of the competition arrived: Monday, November 17. Annabel would attempt a constant weight world record dive at 71m. Walter was aiming for the same 71m dive, the Australian national record in the constant weight discipline. Megumi would reattempt her free immersion, which had been invalidated because of Tuesday’s problem with the official video.
Annabel’s sinus difficulties continued. She was slow in her descent, trying hard to equalize through her congestion. Despite working hard to reach depth, the slow descent prevented Annabel from successfully completing the dive.
Walter, by contrast, was quick to get started. He moved to the comp line declaring he needed only 3 minutes to the official top. It was another confident dive, and Walter broke his own national record in the constant weight.
Megumi, too, appeared relaxed, no doubt boosted by her successful constant weight dive on Saturday. A broad smile played on her face. She was aiming for 52m instead of 50m, and would have no chance to show samba. After another characteristically solid, clean dive, Megumi had again set a new Japanese record.
The Kona Challenge was a long and intense 10 days, but ended in a fanfare of new diving records. Annabel, loving mom of four kids and with five grandkids, had set two world records in three days despite suffering from flu and sinus congestions. Seven national records were set for three nations. Walter set three Australian national records for the constant weight, the constant without fins, and the static. Megumi set three Japanese national records, in the constant weight, the constant without fins and the free immersion. Bill Graham had set the U.S. record in static apnea.
Walter’s triumph was clouded with a new issue. "I had come to Kona to attempt a world record in the no-fins depth. But seven weeks ago the record changed from 50m to 61m. My best attempt during training was only 55m, so I fell short on qualifying to beat the world record." But this sunny and upbeat Aussie made a positive vow to keep honing his diving abilities in the deep blue, and plans to enter the next big international competition, the SONY Open Classic in Cyprus.
Megumi’s Kona attempts had started with difficulty. She had aimed to set a constant weight record at a competition in Japan in September, but came down with the flu shortly beforehand. Her condition hadn’t improved in time for the event. "But my training went well after that," Megumi said. "And since my performance had improved, I didn’t want to end the season without achieving anything. I had heard about Annabel’s attempts through my diving buddy Leo, and asked if I could join the event. They welcomed me. Thanks to that, I broke three records here! I feel so fortunate and happy that things worked out. I really appreciate Annabel and Matt for giving me this opportunity, and Leo and Ryuzo for helping me."
Bill had planned to attempt the constant weight and free immersion senior records at the challenge. Just two days before starting, he’d completed his deepest dive ever: 66m free immersion. "It felt good except for some pressure — reverse block— just before surfacing. One of my sinuses started bleeding and it took a few weeks to heal." Not wanting to risk permanent damage, Bill had canceled his attempts in the depth disciplines. "I’ll train a lot easier this winter. When Annabel peaks for Cyprus in spring the work will increase and I hope to have a good performance in the Aloha State Games. Maybe even take another shot at the record when Deron [Verbeck, former U.S. static record holder] grabs it back. There are a few new techniques I’d like to try and hopefully spend time learning to use a monofin. Sixty meters constant weight may be an impossible dream, but …" Yeah, Bill, you are still a player on the active list. Who knows what you can achieve if you strive hard enough.
"Annabel has an incredible amount of courage and is an inspiration to many. Most athletes end their career before 40. Annabel started hers at 49, and in 3 years has achieved world records." Matt wrote afterwards. "As Annabel’s trainer, I am very proud and amazed at both her athletic ability and mental toughness."
Annabel had dealt with being overwhelmed by people during the event —other challengers, supporters, sponsors and media. As the event’s coordinators and hosts, Matt and Annabel had handled many tasks alone. "The hardest thing to deal with is the hype," said Annabel. "I need some quiet and a day off before a big dive. You know, I went to work during the event, and funnily enough, it was the only time I got a break!"
Later, after the crowds had left and Kona was quiet again, Annabel had some new thoughts on the Kona Challenge. "It’s taken about a week to rest up and look back over the world record week. One, I don’t feel satisfied, I had a terrible diving week and I want another shot at CW and CWWF! Two, I’m proud of myself for pulling off two world records with so many things going wrong and now there’s something for me to aim for next year. Overall, I’m not ready to quit so it’s back to training after Thanksgiving and Christmas!" Next year holds new challenges, including an attempt to set a dynamic record at the SONY Open in Cyprus. "There’s an Underwater Hockey World Championships in New Zealand, too. And there’s … the freediving Championships in Canada. I don’t want to miss out on anything!"
It seems this grandma’s enthusiasm for water and freediving was never wavered. Amazing lady. Who else is a Wonder Woman if Annabel is not?
THE RESULTS OF KONA CHALLENGE [ as of the close of the event]
ATTEMPT ATHLETE DISCIPLINE ACTUAL PERFORMANCE RESULT
Sun., Nov. 9th
Annabel Briseno CWNF -43m Disqualified/BO
Megumi Matsumoto CWNF -30m New Japan Record
Tue. Nov. 11th
Annabel Briseno CWNF -43m Disqualified/BO
Walter Steyn CWNF -52m New Australian Record
Megumi Matsumoto FI -50m Invalid/Video Tape Problem
Thur., Nov. 13th
Annabel Briseno Static 6’21" New World Record
Bill Graham Static 6’56" New USA Record
Megumi Matsumoto Static 4’30"
Walter Steyn Static 6’10" New Australian Record
Sat., Nov. 15th
Annabel Briseno FI -71m New World Record
Megumi Matsumoto CW -56m New Japan Record
Mon., Nov. 17th
Annabel Briseno CW -71m Disqualified/BO
Walter Steyn CW -71m New Australian Record
Megumi Matsumoto FI -52m New Japan Record
Howard Teas from Alaska canceled his attempts due to his physical condition.
Next week, Deeper Blue reports on the unfolding controversy surrounding the Kona Challenge. Things are not always as they seem to be !