In the small community of competitive freediving, we tend to know each other and meet again and again over the years. This, to me, is also the magic of our sport at this point: it is small enough to feel intensely sociable and close knit, but large enough to have world championships with a good number of athletes competing hard for the top spots. The fact is: none of this would happen if it weren't for the time donated freely by freedivers who are willing to take on the role as judge. They do not get paid, they have to take precious vacation and fly half way across the globe to then sit in the blazing sun measuring ropes, creating spreadsheets, watching people go down and come up again, spend hours reviewing bottom camera footage to ensure all performances are valid and then file endless amounts of paperwork. To round things off, they get the joyful honour of watching athletes pee in a jar for the doping test.
Through all this, they carry the responsibilty for often hard decisions, having to give a red card for a perfomance that has been trained for for months. If the athletes celebrate a white card, the judges are often forgotten and rarely thanked. If the decision was a tough one and the outcome not positive, they get complained at. It's a bit of a thankless job, and most of them do it for sheer love of the sport and because they are excited about the incredible things that keep happening before their eyes.
So - as much as the safety divers, the judges share my performance as an athlete. I have yet to encounter a judge who was not positive, excited and welcoming and did not want me to succeed with all their heart. When the crew around me goes quiet and the countdown starts, I can feel their energy and their crossed fingers radiating my way from the platform. They have as much a share in creating an environment that frees me to explore my abilities to the maximum as anyone else around me at this point. When I surface, there is nothing so great as to see a white card from a judge. They often are our close friends, and it breaks their heart to judge a performance not valid. They share every single competition dive with me, the successes as much as the failures. I have had great moments with judges over the years, and if it wasn't for the fact that I have to clear the rope for the next diver, I'd leap out of the water to hug them every time.
|hugging judge Marco Nones after the 110m no limits German record|
So - a huge thank you for the time, energy and crossed fingers donated to me and my fellow freedivers over the years. Here are some who have judged record performances for me - Grant Graves, Bill Stromberg, Pim Vermeulen, Lotta Ericson, Linda Paganelli, Panagiota Balanou, Marco Nones, Stavros Kastrinakis, Ute Gessmann, Kimmo Lahtinen, Martin Müller, Paola, Christoph Leschinski...and all the others -