Monday, 29 September 2014

World Championship 2014: Final&Party!

Doing well in a world championship has much to do with getting your tactics right. I thought I'd maximize my chances for a good dynamic by announcing a distance which I could make for sure (30m. No worries there!) and that would get me a mid-morning start time, allowing my coffee deprived body to wake up a bit before action. It turned out to be a terribly flawed plan, but how was I to know that?

Between depth and the pool final we had two days to kill, which I mostly spent with unsuccessful attempts to upload my blog. This is how exciting we freedivers are: we go out to do a performance of three minutes. For this we need to eat just the right food three hours before, then we need to spend the said three hours resting or stretching (I'm not mentioning yoga here. Evil coach says I'm allergic to yoga. He might just be right.), then prepare for our dive by breathing endlessly in a most boring fashion. Afterwards we need to eat immediately and a lot, then we need to rest - exhausting activity - and annoy the world with facebook posts, after which we need to go to bed early to be ready the next day. After two days of this high intensity program we need a rest day! And people out there think we are an extreme action sport! If only they could see us! 

This routine was mercifully broken by UK athlete Mike Board (who at least has the action hero look about him), who had started to feed the ponies in the field next to the hotel. Pockets bulging with apples stolen from lunch, we went out to try and charm them, but they stayed hidden in the tall growing weeds. This led to a bunch of freediving athletes hopping up and down in front of a fence doing their best to make pony-attracting-whinniying noises, which eventually drew them out! Lovely! I had a brief moment of wondering if Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt are half way up a fence with a carrot between their teeth, making horsey sounds, before a Olympic performance? I'd love to hear these tales, if you have any. 

My dynamic announcement worked out as I had planned with a mid-morning start time of 10:25. A bad mistake, as I soon realized, when a combination of extreme nerves (why? why?) and time passing at a snail's pace set my stress levels to maximum, not helped by the fact that my room mates thought my panicked-grumpy state was very funny. I told them to get lost, which led them to put the "do not disturb" sign on me. Thanks guys. Thanks. 

Out by the pool I was faced with a fresh problem: it was very chilly! Curled up with a wooly hat under my towel, I waited for this nightmare to come to an end, spoke to no one and watched others do their thing, notably Per Westin from Sweden, who swam so slowly that he was hardly moving at all. The judges set off to walk next to him only to realize that he was basically still at the start, which had them all scramble to get back, a very funny sight! He reached 185m in a dive time of 3:40. No one quite knows what he was doing - drifting with the current, maybe? Shame, since he can clearly do much more. Maybe the water just wasn't cold enough for such a Viking to wake up. The other funky performance I witnessed was Marina from the Russian team, who did just over 200m by accident: she had lost count of her turns and thought she was coming up at 150m!

My nerves kept building all the way, with my whole head tingling by the time I reached official top. Not a good way to do a dynamic that was largely (due to only 2 training dives) an unknown for me. The swim felt so awful, I spent 125m having discussions with myself over quitting and planning my excuses in my head. This kept me busy until the 125m turn, when I realized I could do something ok and started monitoring my physical state. I had a sudden idea to swim to 175m, but reigned in the devil to keep it to a safe performance at 157m - it was a team effort, after all. Afterwards, I was annoyed at myself for the useless nerves, but extremely happy to drink a coffee! I will go back to announcing 1m in the future, as just getting it over with still works best for me. In the next pool competition (likely to be in 5 years time, at my rate) it will be time to hardenthefuckup and touch the 175m wall. 

Sun out and coffee in hand, the morning starters could enjoy watching the big swims of the day, with the biggest belonging once again (boring, but incredible) to Natalia Molchanova, who did a world record with 237m in what can only be called a casual way. Complimented on it later by all of us, she said: "it was easy". Yes. Well. No surprises there. 157m? Pussy swim indeed! 

Other teams did not have everything work out so well, with the Danish men in the unlucky bunch - one of their divers got red carded on a surface protocol time violation by less than a second, losing them the top spot. Jesper Stechmann, usually always good for a very big dynamic, lost his will to push and came up 215m, which left the Danes in 5th place over all. They gave up their first place to the Russian men, with the Russian women taking gold on the ladies' side, a fantastic moment of double-win which led the Russian team to throw an impromptu party in the evening. As usual, those instant after-competition-parties are our best ones, with all the pressure gone and everyone in high spirits having a great time. This one was a bit special since it turned out to be unusually shark infested, a tale to be told in private, but that will become freediving-party-legend for sure!

It was a fun event as always, even if I missed the depth part. A big thank you has to go to organizers, safety crew, judges, coaches, our Aida board and the hotel staff. An apology has to go to the poor hotel guests who made the error in booking a holiday there during a world championship. We are so sorry. Thank you for your patience! To help you to avoid a similar mistake, here are the top signs that a freediving competition is in your area:

1. The internet is permanently damaged due to 24 hour overload of resting freedivers with nothing else to do but surf. The web, that is.

2. There are people with fins and wetsuits blocking the pool at all times. The pool is starting to get murky.

3. People with wetsuits and fins are walking around in the lobby. You step into unexpected puddles of water in lobby, lifts and corridors. 

4. If you spot a banana at the buffet, it has disappeared before you can get to it. In fact, there is a banana shortage in all the supermarkets in the area.

5. You get blinded by people with bright yellow shirts on walking around the pool, looking serious and demanding quiet while they whip out white, yellow or red cards.

6. You end up on the internet in various nations because you happened to be innocently lounging in the sun behind the only palm tree that was deemed to be a suitable team photo background.

7. All those people who were doing yoga, looking intense and meditating around the hotel the one minute are dancing around drunkenly until all hours in the morning the next without any previous warning. It only takes one beer to get them to this state.

8. The harassed hotel staff need two days to recover from the demand of airport shuttle organization and transfer of freedivers who are still in a state of intoxication. After which the hotel is mercifully quiet and yoga free, the internet works like a dream and the bananas are back!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Sardinia: Team WC 2014!

This year's team world championship set off in the correct manner by having a massive storm roll in, forcing the organizer to bring the static event forward and yet again making a mess out of my clever preparation plans. You'd think I'd learn to skip making them in the first place, but no such thing. With my static training thus reduced from seven days to two, I quit wasting time on making it nice and went for battle. This got me safely to 05:15 on the competition day, but I have to say it's depressing to fight for over three minutes for such a mediocre performance. In the words of my Italian training buddy Sergio Soria: "also my grandmother!!". Oh well. Not doing that again in a hurry!

Next up was the job of coaching others, which I love and am keeping a decent track record with so far (I once left William Winram when he turned early. I don't coach a dive that stops in 50m. Reputation), although I will say that Liv provided me with a challenge, sending me into a state of coach-panic when she was hit by the first contraction at 1min! What do you do? What to say?? Good luck to the buddy who tries to be soft and gooey and tells Olivia Philip to relax. She will jump right up and tell you where you can put your relaxation! In the end I chose the wise words of our room 123 comp inspiration, Australian comedian the Chopper, and told her to harden the fuck up. Check it out here:

harden the fuck up, by the chopper

A collective gasp went up from the audience, but I knew she was now grinning to herself and it pushed her on to reach 06:05, becoming a #hardenthefuckup world championship fighting legend in the process.

All in all, the static part went well for most teams, with Goran beating Natalia's 08:30 with an easy hold of 09:13 - after she put him in his place in Serbia last year, he is terrified of a repeat incident - Alexey (who is well used to being beaten by his mum) already loves to remind him of the last one and has been known to offer Goran a chance to compete against his older family generations next. Meanwhile, the most notorious item to have emerged from these world championships are the Russian team shorts - emphasis on SHORT - which Alexey has designed to adequately display his newly acquired leg muscles.

He told me that the night before his 115m training dive he was doing squats with his 80kg team mate on his shoulders. It appears that the rest of us had it all wrong! We thought we needed to rest before our measly dives! Stupid! One of my favorite lucky charms here are Goran's lilac Hello Kitty flip-flops. Feminine side and all that, they appear to be working just fine for him, since he surfaced from his 09:13 static looking like I do after 45seconds! If you see me performing monster breath holds at the next worlds, it will be because I have gone and nicked my niece's pink Hello Kitty hairband. I hope.

With the ugly static out of the way, it was time for the teams to go back into the sea for constant weight.  I fell into a fit of depression when everyone headed out to the boats and I was left behind with my broken ear to swim up and down in the pool. Resistance was building up by the minute during my breathe-up, made worse by the fact that my room mates had forbidden me to drink coffee to prepare myself for this misery. Once I started, I was grumpy enough to swim to 150m. It was easy even with contractions at the 25m turn, but did nothing to lift my spirits.

At least I got to go out on the competition day to coach Liv to her first 70m dive and to take care of one of my team mates who unfortunately did not quite make it to the surface on his own, putting the German men back several places in the current ranking. He's inexperienced in depth competitions and underestimated what it meant to dive under these circumstances, but has lots of room to go deep with practice. The German ladies have dropped right down, too, all my fault because my bad-ear-no-diving has lost us my depth points.

Over all constant weight was smooth enough, with only three black outs and a number of early turns. People are conservative and those who compete with a strong team spirit and well thought out performances are at the top, with the Danish men currently in number one spot, demonstrating once again how strong they are in competition tactics.

Much is still open and Friday will bring an exciting dynamic final. I'll be nervous as hell. At least I get to treat my depression with coffee afterwards, followed by:

Beer! Tequila! Party!

But first I have to hold my breath in the pool. Again. Oh shit.