Sunday, September 27, 2020

Athlete Through The Looking Glass

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Sit back, put your feet up, get a cool drink and imagine yourself as this Athlete. . .

Months and months of hard work. Training, organizing and putting up thousands of dollars for the big day.  The Athlete is ready to attempt the Women’s Static Apnea World Record.

Then, finally, a beautiful sunny day at the event site:  the Muani Lani Spa Pool, Kona, Hawai’’i.   Excitement begins to build as the Athlete prepares for her attempt.  Cameras are rolling for two television documentaries to be aired in front of 2.8 million viewers. Medical personnel are standing by, safety divers are in position.  Magazine people are writing the story, photographers are snapping pictures, and a crowd of spectators has formed to watch. 

The AIDA International Judges are  Kirk Krack ( Canada), one of the most respected personalities in freediving,  and 3-time World Record holder Martin Stepanek (Czech Republic).  The judges are positioned to observe the entire event, no more than an arm’s length away from the Athlete herself.

The Athlete takes her final breath, rolls over and the stop watches begin.  She looks strong. On this day she is to  respond to  signals that start at 4 minutes. The minutes and seconds pass., 5 minutes, 6 minutes, 6:15, and up -  breathing very hard, breathe, breathe, all in good rhythm, while the judges are up close looking for signs of loss of motor control (LMC).

 

She removes her nose clip and gives the OK signal inside the 20 second limit.   The Athlete waits, and waits, finally comes the announcement from the two judges that her performance was OK.  She is congratulated by the two judges on what was a fine World Record performance,  with a time of 6:21.

Cheers and congratulations come from everywhere.  With cameras rolling,  a champagne toast is made right in the pool. The television people have their footage, the magazines and newspapers have their story, the photographers have their shots, and the Athlete has a World Record.

The judges leave the pool to review the video and return 10 or 15 minutes later.  We review the video with them as they comment on  the level of exhaustion, the hard,  forced and active breathing, the level of control the athlete displays the entire time and the OK signal given at 18.5 seconds.  Both judges stand by their decisions:  although exhausted, and breathing very hard and forced,  the Athlete stayed focused and in full control of what she was doing the entire time.  Again congratulations, with hugs and kisses from them, they mention that the $500.00 cash we gave them to hold will be spent on the IOC drug test.

The  World Record story makes the front page of the local newspaper with 3 photos.  Phone calls, emails and cards come in from all over the world congratulating the Athlete on her World Record performance.  One television show airs to 800,000 viewers  in Canada and parts of the US.   The other television show  finishes production to go out to the  stations that have purchased the show.  The magazines have their story in photos and print set to go out to their readers. 

Then , 35 days later, the Athlete receives an email from Dieter Baumann regarding the same event video that judges Krack and Stepenak had reviewed .

Baumann:  “On the video of your Static attempt it is clearly to see that there was a small LMC during the exit part”.

 

Baumann goes on to say  that he and Sebastien Nagel both checked it several times to make sure.  “Not the exhaustion was the fact for this but in between your recovery breathing your head does several uncontrolled movements”.

No World Record and no explanation on how to protest is offered.

Wait a minute ! No World Record ?  How can four of freediving’s most respected figures, two of whom were appointed to be sent to the event  (at the Athlete’s expense) have such a major difference of opinion?

How can this happen?

Kirk Krack and Martin Stepanek   watched in person, less than 1 meter from the Athlete’s face,  then reviewed the video,  and concluded that her performance was OK. Then 35 days later, Dieter Baumann and Sebastien Nagel declare that the performance is “clearly” not OK.   Who is correct?  All saw the same performance, two in person  from a vantage point of less than 1 meter away , and reviewed the video. The   other two only see video,  have the official report of the two event judges  and see something entirely different.  This is not good!

An email is immediately received from Kirk Krack that he will stand by his decision.  Martin Stepanek learns of the news while in the Czech Republic and is not happy that this has happened.

The Athlete and her coach begin to plan a course of action to protest.  First,  read the rules.  The AIDA International Website is down for days, so they turn to their  printed versions which are up to date.

How do you protest?  Nothing in the AIDA rules offers an explanation on protest procedures.  Check again -  nothing.  Ok, so next take Sebastian’s quotes from the rules and research them.  His quotes can’t be found in the rules.  Check again, maybe this one, how about this, no, it’s got to be this one.  Where in the rules does it state that the AIDA Executive Board, represented by Dieter Baumann,  has the authority to change the official written document of the event judges ?   Again, can’t be found.  What is going on here?  How do you protest?

The rules as written, seen on the AIDA International Website offered to the athlete and organizer,  have many things missing.

The sadness here is in the fact that this is a true story and not a tale.  Annabel Briseno is the athlete is living this story. Her training, discipline and perseverance culminated in a static breath hold of 6:21, but, incredibly, that proved in the end to be the easy part of claiming a World Record. 

Next Week: A dramatic turn of events, a happy ending for some, and a slew of open questions. Stay tuned !

 

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