If there has ever been a golden age for women in freediving it is likely happening right now. At this very moment in time, there are so many exceptionally strong female freedivers competing it makes me giddy to think of all the possibilities of where each of these individually powerful women will go. Standing on an impeccable legacy for world-class performances (set-up by the unforgettable Natalia Molchanova), this next generation of female freedivers will be setting records and personal bests that are simply astounding. And while everyone typically does like a good “top ten” list, for this particular incredible list of talented ladies I’d rather think of it as a dynamic inventory that will grow, change and expand over time. In other words, this article is not meant to be an all-encompassing critique but rather a provocative dialogue of what many of us have observed as of late in terms of an amazing leader-board and an overall increase in the number of women with all-around strength in all of the self-propelled depth (ocean) disciplines (we’ll save the pool conversation for another day!)

To organize the contenders among the top-tier female athletes let’s use a rubric of four categories for depth: Finners for Constant Weight (CWT); Gliders for Free Immersion (FIM); Swimmers for No-Fins (CNF) and All-Round Athletes (Triple A’s) for the ladies who boldly perform incredibly well in all categories, combined.

RELATED: Freediving Disciplines Explained

Hanako and Sayuri playing in the shallows (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Hanako and Sayuri playing in the shallows (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Finners

The discipline of Constant Weight (CWT) has become the real bleeding-edge of advancement for women’s freediving. Natalia Molchanova was the first woman to break the 100-meter glass ceiling, but since that time five other women have not only joined the club but pushed the limits even further. Hanako Hirose of Japan and Alessia Zecchini of Italy battled back and forth with consecutive world records of 102m, 103m, and 104m at last year’s Vertical Blue.  Finally this year Alessia took the crown with a 105m dive at the Nirvana Oceanquest competition, and then for Alenka Artnik to equal (and share) the depth at this year’s Vertical Blue.

Alenka Artnik (photo by Kalindi Wijsmuller)
Alenka Artnik (photo by Kalindi Wijsmuller)

Alenka Artnik of Slovenia made her dive to 100m CWT at the world championships look easy, and Tomoka Fukuda of Japan announced her arrival in this August group earlier this year when she realized a personal best dive of 100m in Grand Cayman, just a week after Alessia pushed the world record to 105m.

We are in the middle of OriginECN Vertical Blue 2018 where all four of these current contenders in CWT will be competing together at the same time, for the first time ever.  We’ve also seen the sixth member of this elite club join with Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan hit 100m with ease.

Whatever happens during the rest of the competition, you can be sure it will be electrifying.

Alessia in Deans Blue Hole (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Alessia in Deans Blue Hole (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Gliders

Slowing your heart and mind to the perfect pace to be able to pull yourself up and down a line for Free Immersion (FIM) can be trickier than it looks — timing and relaxation are key. Jeanine Grasmeijer of the Netherlands is the current world record holder in FIM at a depth of 92m but she has plenty of company nipping closely at her heels as Sofia Gomez Uribe of Colombia, Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan and Jessea Lu of China are just six meters off of her personal best at 86m — and Alessia Zecchini of Italy is creeping even closer within four meters at 88m.

What makes this race even more interesting is the variability in the styles in which these athletes approach this discipline.

Sofia Gomez Uribe glides into the blue (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Sofia Gomez Uribe glides into the blue (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Alessia is fueled by determination, Sofia is a fine-tuned athlete, and Sayuri is demonstrably dedicated to her training while then, on the other hand, you have Jessea who has never trained as a swimmer and doesn’t consider herself an athlete, and Jeanine who is a natural talent.

Jessea on her way to a new PB (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Jessea on her way to a new PB (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Swimmers

The grueling discipline of Constant Weight No-Fins (CNF) is not for the faint of heart. It is what many people deem the ‘purest’ form of freediving and requires the most mental and physical strength to truly compete at a world-class level. This is the reason that there are fewer names to pull out of the hat. The current world record holder Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan has had virtually no competition within striking distance of her 72m since she set it back in the spring of 2016, that is until this year’s Vertical Blue when Alessia Zecchini took the crown with 73m.

Sayuri prepares on the surface (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Sayuri prepares on the surface (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

Amber Bourke of Australia gave it go this past March but ultimately did not reach the promise-land of a world record white card. However, Bourke does remain the second deepest active female in the category with an Aussie national record of 68m CNF.

Amber attempts no-fins (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Amber attempts no-fins (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

The next pair of female freedivers in the category have both taken time off recently from the competitive circuit to focus instead on motherhood. Ashley Chapman (nee Futral) of USA and Alena Konecna (nee Zabloudilova) of Czech Republic were dominating the no-fins field back in 2012 with respective dives to 67m CNF (a world record for Chapman) and 65m for Alena but it remains to be seen if they are to make a return to the arena and IF they do… IF they will still be in fighting form. There are three potential “sleepers” of the discipline, who might just make their presence known this year if Nataliia Zharkova, Sofia Gomez Uribe or Jessea Lu decide to focus on improving the 60m depth they all share.

Nataliia Zharkova in good form (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Nataliia Zharkova in good form (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

All-Round Athletes

To excel in one category of apnea takes patience, time and practice, but to be a triple-threat, a “Triple A” contender is even more daunting as the techniques and methods for perfecting one discipline may clash with the requirements of another. Sheer finesse & inner fortitude is what the following four females all share. Sofia Gomez Uribe of Colombia, Kate Middleton of New Zealand (by way of Canada), Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan and Nataliia Zharkova of Ukraine are all amazing freedivers who hold myriad records but what’s most impressive is their ability to succeed in all of the depth disciplines and the pace at which each of them has progressed in just a few year’s time.

Golden girl Kate descends (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Golden girl Kate descends (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

The mastery in which they apply their skills to the varying disciplines is nothing short of astonishing; to be in the top 10 in at least two or usually, all three depth categories manifest their unique & adaptable strength. To visualize it in another way, just imagine that every time one of these powerful ladies attempts a target depth they are actually diving down (and propelling themselves back with only the air in their lungs) the average distance of the height of the “Big Ben” clock-tower of London!

Sayuri rising (photo by Daan Verhoeven)
Sayuri rising (photo by Daan Verhoeven)

It will be very interesting to see where and when each of these ladies decides to focus their efforts because that will be game-changing.

Join us in applauding all of their impressive efforts so far; with some premiere competitions coming up shortly on the 2018 competitive calendar we are all holding our breath to see what seismic shifts will occur on the ladies leader-board but one thing is for sure — it will be awesome.

Champion ladies (photo by Samo Jeranko)
Champion ladies (L to R) Alessia Zechini, Alenka Artnik, Nataliia Zharkova (photo by Samo Jeranko)

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