Editor’s Note: Due to the terrible events that occured on Saturday 12th October, our continuing coverage will be on hold till more details are available. Please keep an eye on our news page for breaking news on this tregedy.
Tanya Streeter, with her quantum advance to the 160 meter mark, and now Audrey Mestre with a 170 meter training dive, have shattered the orthodox conception of progress-by-degrees in the elite ranks of sport. We have become accustomed to baby steps, to records being surpassed by the smallest of measurable increments – tenths of a second in some of the running sports and swimming, fractions of an inch in the field events, and a couple of meters, at most, in freediving. Now, in a stunning turn of events , Tanya and Audrey have changed the rules. Mandy- Rae Cruickshank, whose womens’ no-limits record was leapfrogged by Tanya, is unlikely to sit by idly. Loic Le Ferme watches with interest, notes each new milestone, and plans.
Where will it end ?
Science, at this late juncture, is strangely mute. The pioneers, Mayol, Maiorca, and others were warned again and again that this or that barrier could not be surpassed. Reasonable, sober physicians were certain that descending beyond 100 meters would mean a crushed thorax and certain death. Similar caveats had been offered with no less certainty as freedivers approached 30 meters, 50 meters and other arbitrary depths. Our mammalian dive reflex and the human genius for innovation in technique and technology have now carried our best divers into a region where science, it would appear, has nothing to say.
Is there, in fact, an ultimate, final depth limit beyond which no freediver can go and survive?
One school of thought suggests that the impenetrable Wall looming just ahead is that of oxygen toxicity. The partial pressure of the O2 these freedivers are exposed to at these depths is past the red zone and off the charts, way more than twice the Biblically commanded 1.6 ATA limit. Time, no doubt, is of the essence in this matter, the risks increasing with the duration of exposure. The sleds are faster, yes – Pipin’s introduction of teflon on the cable and guide surfaces has sped up the ride, but in the end, deeper dives will be longer dives. Higher and higher partial pressures of O2, longer and longer exposures. Not to mention plain old nitrogen narcosis, by now a familiar experience to the deep freedivers. So, where is the red line ?
In less than 48 hours, Audrey Mestre will drop from the surface, and, descending past documentary cameras and staged safety divers, will write her name, again, in the history books. Those of us fortunate enough to be around her will have witnessed a triumph of the human spirit. At times, when I contemplate the dimensions of this act, the sheer magnitude of the achievement, I am filled with wonder and no small measure of apprehension. These freedivers are going where no one has gone before, and we simply do not know what lies there.