The Freedive Show — Part I

Welcome to DeeperBlue.net’s continuing coverage of the 2003 Sony Freediver Open Classic in Limmissol, Cyprus, May 24th to 31st. In six weeks, one hundred and seventy-six freedivers from around the world will go head to head in the biggest individual AIDA competition ever.

The cancellation of the AIDA Team World Championship slated for Turkey this fall makes Cyprus the event of the year. World records will be challenged. Rivalries may deepen. New freediving stars will undoubtedly emerge.  One thing is certain, as we sit behind our Deeperblue Freedive Show desk, we promise to stoke the fires of pre-competition excitement with in-depth analysis and lively commentary.

It will be a memorable competition. Will an absent Mandy-Rae Cruickshank be dethroned as the number one ranked woman in the world?  Can Carlos Coste defend his constant weight world record of 90m? Will Nathalie Desreac’s dynamic apnea mark of 150m ever be surpassed? And above all, will the individual format overtake the team competition in popularity?

Stay tuned!

Mephisto’s Game

Imagine you are competing at the 2003 Sony Freediver Open Classic. Click your red shoes together three times and say out loud, "There’s no place like Limmissol, there’s no place like Limmissol."

You are a contender.

You stand there with your new secret monofin design, your custom suit clinging to your dolphin body like shrink-wrap on a cucumber. The sun shines and you can hear the ocean. You see Nitsch and Stepanek hounded by media, Coste and Briseno hounded by fans. You are your own best kept secret. You want to come out of nowhere and astound the freediving world. Like a shark snatching a competitor from the descent line.

Your personal best is 91m, one metre better than Coste’s world record. You know at least five other freedivers can go deeper. Maybe you could go a couple of metres deeper. 

Let the game begin…

You announce your absolute maximum, let’s say 93m, betting on stiff competition from the likes of Coste, Nitsch, Stepanek and Nery. Sure you might blackout or rupture an eardrum, but it would be worth it, no?

On the other hand, with so many freedivers announcing world record depths, they might all black themselves out. The pressure will be as intense on the surface as it will be at 300 feet under water. They’ll try to outgun each other. So you should announced 91m, claim the world record, and hope for the cards to fall as they may.

On second thought, you’ve only done 91m once—why take any chances?   Equalizing was a struggle, the narcosis was mind-numbing. A world record would be nice, but better to be the deepest freediver left at the top of the standings. Your mate tells you to settle for a convincing 88m and a rebel yell when you surface to show the judges there’s no doubt. 

Ah, hell! Anyone would sell their soul to be the first person to crack 100m in a competition. Slicing open your finger with the edge of your monofin, you dip your pen in your own blood and get ready to sign your soul away to Mephistopheles for a little freediving glory…

Solo Competition

The drama of Sony Freediver Open Classic will come down to each freediver’s final decision on how deep and how long.

At the 2nd AIDA World Championships in Sardinia in 1998, when Umberto Pelizarri won with a 60m dive, freedivers threw themselves into to the abyss with the recklessness of a human canon ball. There were big egos and trash talk, followed by blackouts during the performances–seven black outs on the first day alone. One diver went so far beyond his limit that he blacked out 18m below the surface; he was finally revived by emergency personnel after many minutes of unconsciousness.

The Red Sea Dive Off in 1999 produced similar results. A team competition was held in addition to the individual head-to-head contest. Predictably, with team points on the line, there were fewer disqualifications than in the individual competition.

Since those experiments with individual competitions, AIDA has preferred to endorse the ethic of "getting points" instead of individual results.   At the 2000 World Cup in Nice, France, the French team made conservative announcements and won.

Will Cyprus in 2003 be any different from Sardinia or the Red Sea? Herbert Nitsch is one athlete who has no interest in accumulating points. In Ibiza, he blew away the world with a world record 86m dive, and then suffered a samba after surpassing the world record in static. Now, he is surely hungry to retake the constant weight record and set his first static apnea world record.  He had announced a series of records planned for late April in Sharm-El Sheikh, Egypt, but this event was cancelled, putting all the more pressure on him to perform in Cyprus.  He may have to re-set the dynamic record as well, since it may very well fall during the competition. How many others will relish the opportunity to set a world record in static, constant or dynamic in front of the freediving community? How many will go too far?  For most top athletes, an individual competition provides an extremely inexpensive and convenient venue to attempt a world record, and for many, the temptation may be enough to push themselves beyond their limit, and go for the ‘free’ record. 

For these reasons, the individual format is more likely to lure competitors to depths, times and distances they would not consider in a team competition. Everyone is going deeper, longer and further. This trend will be on every freediver’s mind.  The table below shows the maximum performances reached at previous big-ticket international competitions.

Who is In

The following list of freedivers will be on everyone’s mind as the people to beat. The majority have proven that they can handle the pressure of national and international competitions. Others are still emerging as dangerous threats to the favourites.

The Women: Anabel Briseno, Charlotia Erikssen, Karoline Dal Toe, Sophie Passalaqua.

The Men: Carlos Coste, Herbert Nitsch, Martin Stepanek, Guillame Nery, Stig Severinsen,  Pierre Frolla, Timo Kinnunen.

Who is Out

The Italians continue their boycott of AIDA competitions since the 2001 Ibiza World Championships. Although the jubilant Italian men, lead by Umberto Pelizzari, celebrated their team victory with Italian folk songs, the last straw was the questionable disqualification of Silvia Da Pon, both during her static world record attempts, and in the static competition, resulting in the loss of first place by the women’s team. Too bad, since even though the great Pelizarri has retired, several other divers like Davide Carrera and Gaspare Battaglia are strong in static and constant and would have contended for an overall win, if not a world record.  In fact, the Italian diver Alessandro Rignanilolli holds the current Italian FIPSAS constant weight record at 88m.  Another Italian, variable-ballast guru Gianluca Genoni, was to attempt a 90m FIPSAS record in constant weight in 2002, and apparently reached the depth in training, but suffered an ear drum rupture, cancelling his official attempt.  Unfortunately, due to the Italian boycott of AIDA, all of these excellent divers will be absent from the Sony Freediver Open Classic. 

Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, the anchor for Team Canada, has accepted a new position with PADI International and cannot fit the competition into her work schedule. She finished 2002 as the number one female diver in the world, setting competition records in both static and constant weight at the Kona World Cup. Tanya Streeter has elected to attempt an AIDA world record in variable weight, instead of attending Cyprus.

Manolis Giankos, a highly underrated freediver who equalled Herbert Nitsch’s 66m dive in Nice 2000 and dove to a modest 81m in Ibiza 2001 (after 89m in training), is conspicuous in his absence. He had the best point total in Ibiza. Unfortunately, his friends in Greece have been unable to persuade him to attend. 

Hubert Maier, famous for his fourteen litre lung capacity and consistent seven minute statics has not competed in over a year. Could it be that his serious blackout in Ibiza from 70m put him off deep diving?

Patrick Musimu, holder of many current and previous depth records for both the IAFD and AIDA, has stated that he will not attend AIDA competitions until the athlete is allowed to choose his own equipment, as allowed in AIDA world record attempts. 

What’s Ahead

Indications are that the Sony Freediver Open Classic could set the standard for international competitions. Due to limited resources, AIDA cannot maintain an organizing committee to oversee each competition. It is up to the organizer to seek advice from AIDA, freedivers, judges, and past volunteers to learn from previous  mistakes. In the past, organizers have frequently repeated the mistakes of previous year’s competitions. The Freediver Magazine crew are composed of experienced freedivers and have adopted a transparent policy towards the competition preparations. Anyone can post questions on their forum about rules, set-up and arrangements, in contrast to the token website that served no purpose leading up to Ibiza 2001.  Hopefully, this trend will continue and the athletes will be able to focus entirely on what they are in Cyprus to do.

Next on the Freedive Show

Coming up next week, we will have a look at the competition from the competitor’s point of view:

  • An AIDA rules primer
  • Training to win
  • Using competition rules to advantage
  • The challenge of staying healthy
  • Equipment
  • Blackout, sambas and other disqualifications

Until next time, from both of us at the DeeperBlue.net Freedive Show, have a great week

Official Website

In addition to the coverage here, why not visit the Official Competition Website

Partners

Why not visit Apnea Magazine for Italian, or SportalSub.net for Spanish translations of our coverage?