We started planning this competition months ago. I organized a judges course with Bill Stromberg, so our future competitions could have “National Open status” etc. We contacted the Municipality of Nikaia and they were more than happy to let us use their 50m Olympic pool. We also managed to find six sponsors: Deep magazine, Magestic (carbon constructions and fins), Apnea (diving equipment), Power Bar, Marea (suits) and Underwater Hobby (freediving school). So things looked good. We announced the competition to AIDA International, set up the competition website and some emails started coming in. First Tom Sietas said he would come and then some freedivers from Cyprus. Tom had to cancel due to some medical tests that he had to do. But about a week before the competition my phone rang and when I picked it up, I heard Peter Pedersen asking if he could come. After some light interrogation he said he would try for a WR in Dynamic Apnea. So I arranged for an Anti-Doping test kit to be available. I also placed the announcements and the official top times on the competition website days before the competition, so all athletes could plan their day.
We arranged for the pool to be open for training for the subscribed athletes during the week right before the competition. The guys from Cyprus arrived and we went for a training session. It was nice to see them again. Last time I saw them, I was a judge at their competition in Cyprus. This time we would all be in the water. Peter arrived one day before the competition and I met him at the airport to take him to the hotel in Athens. The first thing I said to him was “I recognized you from your hair”, and he started laughing out loud. He seemed like a nice guy and we talked non-stop all the way to downtown Athens.
Saturday morning at 10:00, we all met again at the pool to register, pay the fees etc. Power Bar supplied the athletes with a sports drink and a couple of bars, all put in a bag for each athlete to take right after the registration. AIDA Hellas supplied the competition t-shits for free. Three colors, white for the athletes, blue for those involved in the organization and red for the judges. The pool was set up in no time (banners, tables to stand on during static in the competition zones etc) thanks to the great number of volunteers that we had. The judges, Peter and myself had a small meeting to talk about the last details about his WR attempt, just to make sure everything was clear. I wanted this competition to be perfect, so I couldn’t relax. Being an organizer and an athlete at the same time is a little hard. People kept telling me to stop worrying and concentrate on my performances but I just couldn’t.
The competition started with Static Apnea. Athletes could participate in all three pool disciplines so the need to make it as fast as possible led us to have four competition zones for static and two for the dynamics. Everything ran according to plan and there were no delays. George Georgas made a nice 6:32 and took first place, I managed 6:31 and Manolis Giangos returning after 2 years of absence due to his military service got third place with 6:23. Peter Pedersen did 6:18 and Kostas Kyriakou pulled a nice 6:05 and set a new national record for Cyprus. For the women, Natassa Frangouli surfaced at 4:53, Vicky Sambani did 4:39 and Panagiota Balanou, the national record holder surfaced early at 3:41. She told me she wasn’t in the mood to push. I was really surprised as usually she is very determined and always does her best.
After a break (where most athletes appreciated the offer from Power Bar), dynamic apnea started. George Georgas had announced 1m (once again)! Stavros Kostakos was in an equally humorous mood with a 2m announcement! They finished their attempts with 123m and 141m respectively. Every body was waiting to see what Manolis Giangos would do, since once had the national record with 150m before he disappeared from the scene. He pulled a 164m Dynamic, breaking the previous 152 national record by George Georgas, but he didn’t set a record! You see, Aggelos Grivas who was going in the opposite zone, started 3 minutes before Manolis but hadn’t finished when Manolis started. He surprised us all with a fantastic 171m performance, taking the lead so far and breaking the existing national record by 19m!! Impressive. I was next with a 140m announcement. I was busy trying to make sure everything was set up properly for Peter’s WR attempt, who was going three minutes after me in the opposite zone. Suddenly I heard Katerina Boltsi (the girl announcing the top times) telling me that I had 1:30 to start!! What the hell??? My fins were not there and George Georgas ran to my assistance. I started putting on my fins less than a minute before I was to start and I entered the water just before “10 seconds” was announced. I didn’t have time to relax, nor to pack to the usual amount that I do. So I started with a “let’s see how it goes” attitude. I surfaced after 144m. Hmm, not good but at least I didn’t get a penalty. Right after the white cards from the judges I threw my fins on the side of the pool and ran to the other side to assist Peter. I was supposed to be his “coach” in order to vocally assist him with his surfacing. He managed a fantastic 190m dynamic apnea, I said “breathe! breathe! breathe!”, (but it was obvious that it wasn’t necessary), he did everything right, he got 2 white cards and the crowd started cheering and yelling “Bravo”!!! What a performance and what a moment! The girls did some very good performances too. Vicky Sambani did 108m, failing to break her own 123m national record, but still a great performance. Panagiota Balanou surprised us again by doing a personal best during a competition with 104m, Vaso Kaliva in her first ever competition and after only a couple of weeks of training did 95m and Natassa Frangouli stopped at 93m. We should also mention George Karakatsanis who did 109m in his first competition. In total we had 13 people doing 100m or more. Well done!
Last event was the Dynamic apnea without fins. Vaso Kaliva suffered a bad LMC after doing more that 90m. With proper guidance, I believe her name will be remembered in the future. Vicky Sambani came second with 64m and Natassa Frangouli with an easy and clean performance broke the national record once more and now it stands 12m further, at 78m. The guys didn’t do bad either. Kostas Kyriakou from Cyprus broke the national record with 68 meters. Christos Giatsios did more without fins (83m) than with fins (50m)! George Georgas had once more announced 1m (yeah right!) but surfaced nice and clean after 91m, taking third place. Once again Peter was the last to go, right after me. I started mine with no timing problems this time but as soon as I kicked off the wall, my goggles flooded completely. I decided to go for it anyway, so I followed the blue blur that I guessed was the blue line in the middle of the lane. I made two turns and came up at 111m. I couldn’t see a thing but I could hear the crowd cheering. I took of my useless goggles gave the OK and I saw the judges giving me two white cards. It felt nice to break my previous 106m national record and it felt quite easy too. But then disaster hit. Peter Pedersen started and with a very fast pace surfaced after exactly 111m too! The bastard had announced 100m (30m more than me) so he STOLE (!!!) first place right out of my hands, because of his announcement. He later told me (after I approached him with bad intentions and he jumped in the pool to escape) that when he heard the cheering, he looked with the corner of his eye to see how much I had done. I’m kidding of course. Peter is “one of us” as we say here in Greece. Besides, the exact opposite happened in Vancouver where I stole third place in Dynamic from “Kaz” in the exact same way! Pay back! Kaz, I know you are smiling!
The awards ceremony followed at the pool side and a few people were thrown in the pool, according to our tradition. For some weird reason I wasn’t one of them, which is good. AIDA Hellas provided a nice dinner, for all the athletes, volunteers and judges about an hour later in a nice restaurant. Overall, it was a great competition for everyone. We made new friends, we got TV news coverage and we are all looking forward to our summer games in July. We are planning an even bigger event.
The full results from this competition can be found at:
PS: The next day, I went for a long walk and talk with Peter. We went to the Acropolis. I think it was after walking around the Parthenon that he mentioned how we athletes sometimes get greedy. If I remember the conversation right, he said something like: “I wasn’t happy with my 190m dynamic at first”. But latter he heard the people cheering him on and felt that we should be happy with what we do, as long as we do our best. Peter, my friend, you were right!