After ten days in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, the final tally for Reto en el Abismo 2004 is: five freediving world record attempts, four new International Judges and one pending world record.
Starting on October 20, fellow International Judge Grant Graves (USA) and I began preparations to oversee and officiate the two world record attempts that had been announced by Carlos Coste (VEN) and Stig Severinsen (DEN). As officials it would be our job to make sure all A.I.D.A. International rules, regulations and safety protocols are followed and that each of the performances are properly documented, so as to ensure that current and future records are honoured.
To mitigate the numerous risks associated with the attempts we began with an overall safety and organizational meeting in which I reviewed primary and secondary rescue procedures and redundancies and established each of the roles required for the organization staff.
Accompanying Stig Severinsen was a Danish television crew shooting a four-part series on him for national broadcaster DR1. As active participants in the event it was essential that they, too, be included in the protocols and procedures. This continued throughout the week with briefings the night before each attempt. In addition to this, a number of other tasks had to be completed including stretching and marking the official lines, calibrating the depth gauges and establishing the individual roles for Grant and myself as primary judges on game day.
The first attempts took place Saturday Oct. 23rd.
First to go was Carlos Coste, who rode a weighted sled down the official line to 135m / (442 ft.). According to regulations a minimum of three official cameras must capture the entire performance. One, mounted to the sled, captured the incredible ride as Carlos flew past safety scuba divers at 35, 70 and 100 meters, at speeds averaging 2 meters per second. A second camera secured to the bottom plate captured his arrival at depth. Meanwhile two surface cameras, the Danish camera crew and a host of safeties, organizers and spectators anxiously awaited his return to the surface. For the Variable Weight category the diver is required to ascend under his own power, which Carlos did in a final time of 4:08. The dive was clean,and Carlos maintained control as he coughed up some of the remaining fluids that had accumulated due to the thoracic filling that takes place at extreme depths.
Thoracic filling is the critical mammalian diving reflex a.k.a Blood shift that shifts plasma from the bloodstream into the lung cavity to prevent compression damage. These fluids are reabsorbed during ascent/expansion.
A few minutes later Stig Severinsen left the surface for 67m /219 ft. without the aid of fins (Constant No Fins) or weights. Though his initial descent was strong, Stig turned at 61.2 meters due to equalization problems. Unfortunately, later review of both official surface videos of Carlos’s dive revealed the video documentation did not meet A.I.D.A. International standards, having missed approximately 1:30 of the pre-dive time, so a second attempt became necessary for him as well.
With the athletes on rest days, Grant and I began the Judge-in-Learning course, which upon completion would see the addition of four new Level E judges to
the A.I.D.A. roster. Carlos Coste, Gabriela Contreras (the head organizer) and our two safety freedivers, Luis Delgado and Giovanni Profeta registered for the course. Over the next five days a total of more than 16 hours were spent reviewing rules, theory and regulations, followed by practical application in water. Bookended by real world records attempts, the course was both in context and highly relevant for each of the participants.
Stig’s second attempt took place on October 26th. After successfully reaching the targeted depth Stig returned to the surface elated, but hypoxic enough to forget to breathe. Looking around he gave a small cheer and briefly lost consciousness. The next day Carlos repeated his incredible 135-meter performance, this time taking his sweet time to ascend for a total dive time of 4:36. There was tension as the safety team was instructed to drop the counterweight at 4:30, however, thanks to the clear water we were able to see the final 15 seconds of his ascent. This time the video documentation was good and the performance has been recommended for final ratification and world record status.
The final dive took place on October 29th. Once again Stig made his target depth, but blacked out on ascent at approximately 15 meters requiring Carlos, acting as the safety diver, to bring him to the surface. Tense moments again, as Stig was out for a good 30 seconds before coming around and coughing up fresh blood indicating some level of lung barotrauma. In no time we had him back on the boat breathing oxygen as the remaining fluid in his lungs reabsorbed. It’s a setback for Stig but something he will surely overcome, as his good spirits were restored almost immediately.
Although there were disappointments everyone was glad to have come to the end of the event. It had been a long ten days with numerous ups and downs and tests of our abilities to judge and safely conduct world record performances. Congratulations to the athletes, hosts and organizers in Venezuela, and thank you for the opportunity to be part of your successes.