Photos: Samo Jeranko, Alex St-Jean, Laura Babahekian
Sports disciplines where the Slovenian national team returns from a world championship with a world record, a gold medal, two silver medals and a bronze medal are few and far between. And yet, we have managed to pull it off during the most recent freediving world championship that took place in Honduras at the beginning of August.
Early arrival to the island of Roatan in the middle of July was a prerequisite in order to adapt to the time difference and to get some rest after the trip that took us nearly two days. Before that, Alenka Artnik was getting ready on Panglao, an island in the Philippines, as is her tradition, while Neža and I were training in the Adriatic on weekends. Once we got to the location of the championship, we dove into training without hesitation, progressed rapidly, and improved our personal records. For Alenka, this also meant openly announcing a new world record that she set for the first time during the preliminary round, where I also managed to improve the national record. Our success was further complemented by Neža who equalled the national record in the free immersion discipline.
On the first day of the tournament, the “constant weight no fins” competition took place. A powerful current affected numerous performances of the best divers and also played a key role in the fact that the two favourites, William Trubridge and William Winram, lost consciousness and were therefore disqualified. I cautiously began my championship journey, diving to the depth of 76 m and coming in fourth, while the first victory went to Alexey Molchanov and to Alessia Zecchini, an Italian freediver.
Then, it was time for the long-anticipated “constant weight with fins” competition. The rivalry between Alenka and Alessia attracted the attention of the entire freediving community. Alenka announced an even deeper dive than the one she performed during the preliminary round, but so did Alessia. Predictions of many came true since they both announced the same record depth of 113 m. Alenka was the first to dive, concluding her dive in an exceptional manner. Then, we waited impatiently for Alessia’s outcome. Her dive was longer, and her strokes got weaker in the last couple of metres. In spite of it, she completed the protocol, seemingly with ease. They both deserved their immeasurable joy!
A couple of minutes before them, I completed my dive to the depth of 108 m as well. Due to lack of time, I didn't exactly commit myself to this discipline. However, I knew that some of the favourites will be missing from the competitors’ lineup since they have been disqualified. I also predicted that some of the remaining divers will maybe fail to execute their dive, meaning that I could still remain in the running for the podium, even with an imperfect dive. And that’s exactly what happened. Alexey (125 m) and Andrey (115 m) completed their dives splendidly. However, the Italian diver Vincenzo Ferri (111 m) finished his dive at a depth of 30 m due to equalizing issues, meaning that the American Daniel Koval and I won a bronze medal.
After a day of rest, the championship went on with the “constant weight with bi-fins” competition starring Alenka, the current world record holder, and Neža. The Ukrainian Nataliia Zharkova took the top spot with an incredible dive to the depth of 93 m which also meant a new world record. 88 m was enough for Alenka to secure second place, while Neža also completed a very successful dive, coming in eighth with a depth of 70 m. Alexey Molchanov (110 m) once again took the top spot in the men’s race.
The championship ended with a “free immersion” competition for both me and Neža. After last year’s success, I knew this was my strongest discipline. I was also aware that I was most likely to reach a higher ranking. I thought a lot about the depth to announce. The 107 m I achieved in the preliminary round increased my self-esteem. But I decided to take the same approach as in recent competitions: minimal risk. In the end, I opted to announce the depth of 105 m, a depth I knew I could reach without issues. Alexey (118 m) completed his dive without issues, while Abdulatif (110 m) turned around 8 m before reaching the announced depth. In the end, Andrey Matveenko and I both came in second, which was a fantastic result.
This championship serves as proof that freediving is becoming a serious sporting discipline, requiring total dedication and professionalism. Four medals in one world championship is the greatest group success the Slovenian team has achieved thus far. Next year’s championship will be taking place on the Côte d’Azur, in Nice, France.
Eternally in love with the sea and its depths that he first approached as an underwater hunter, he is a competitive freediver and an experienced freediving instructor. By diving to a depth of 110 metres with a dive fin, he became the world silver medallist and, to date, the only Slovenian to dive that deep. Through photos and stories, he enjoys sharing his passion for the underwater world with readers of The Hive.