2012 AIDA Team World Championships: Swapping my Monofin for a Judge Shirt

2012 AIDA Team World Championships: Constant Weight

Constant weight, with AIDA President Kimmo Lahtinen

At this year’s AIDA Freediving Team World Championships on the French Riviera, I found myself in a different position: judging instead of diving. I was excited to be part of great team of judges, and knew our busy schedule would keep me occupied day and night. But in the back of my mind, I wondered weather watching others dive while I stayed on the platform would slowly get to me; even lead me to peel off the yellow judge shirt and try to sneak in a dive before being apprehended by the army of safety divers. Definitely a risk.
Team World Championships are intriguing competitions. Unlike most comps–where athletes compete against each other individually or try to break national records–at Team WCs countries field teams to compete across three disciplines: depth (“Constant Weight”), time (“Static”), and distance (“Dynamic”). Since aggregate score determines the winner, athletes tend to be conservative: one blackout or major penalty can drop a team from the podium to mid-table. But given the large number of athletes, there’s usually plenty of drama.
This year was no exception, with surprise medalists for men and women, and unexpected problems and penalties dropping frontrunners out of contention. At the opening ceremony, for the women’s competition Russia, France, and Japan looked like safe bets for the podium. For the men’s, it looked like a two-horse race: Denmark returning with the same divers (Jesper, Jacob and Rune) who won the last Team WCs in Okinawa (team WCs held in even numbered years, individual WCs in odd); and host France with an intimidating team led by 2011 Individual World Champion Guillaume Nery. Though France had home court advantage (Guillaume a native of host city Nice), I had judged the Danish National Championships in August, and seen no weaknesses in the Danish team.
Is judging easier than competing? Yes and no. Judges don’t suffer the sleepless nights that haunt freedivers at comps: depths that sound reasonable when announced (the afternoon before the dive) seem menacing in the predawn hours before the dive. Nonetheless, our judging days often started at 5 a.m. and finished at 9 p.m., so sleep deprivation became a challenge for us as well. Like the athletes, I was part of a team, judging with AIDA President Kimmo Lahtinen (with me in the second photo), Sport Officer Ute Gessmann, Judge Responsible Marcello di Matteis, and senior judge Panagiota Balanou. Given organizational issues that popped up regularly during the comp, we were lucky to have this experienced group to respond with.
Judging does have one major benefit over competing: you get to see a lot of performances, and in a competition like this, that means some extraordinary ones. I watched Guillaume Nery surface easily from his 114m Constant Weight dive—the deepest ever in a Team World Championship—and then face a barrage of reporters on the platform (the first photo shows the platform, benign in calm seas). I was also fortunate to judge Jesper Stechman’s and Alexey Molchanov’s competition-best Static and Dynamic (respectively). Perhaps most impressive was Goran Colak’s 7:26 Static. Visibly shivering minutes before his start (once and a while, we all choose the wrong wetsuit) he put up an amazing performance, well below his best, but right at his limit in those conditions. Goran’s strong performance was a warning shot from the Croats: below radar before the comp, their scores began to catch everyone’s attention.
Though I saw a lot of performances up close, on the final day I was as unsure as anyone about team results: I was hearing rumors of big performances, but total focus on the athletes I was judging meant I was oblivious to events in other lanes. In the end the Japanese women didn’t disappoint, racking up clean dynamic performances and an huge point total to take gold; France took silver on the back of consistently strong performances, and Serbia surprised everyone by locking up third place (divers Lena, Tijana and Natasa seemed as surprised as anyone, jumping and screaming when they heard the results).
For the men, it came down to the wire. Denmark had stumbled early (one diver unable to recover from a pre-event lung squeeze), and the Russians—looking certain to medal after the first two events—bowed out in the last with an uncharacteristic DSQ. The Czechs—surging with Michel Risian’s 238m Dynamic—took bronze. Croatia, capped by Goran Colak’s 236m Dynamic (short only in comparison to his 273m world record at last years WCs) were sitting on 840 points: still in reach of the French, whose top two dynamic divers (former world record holder Fred Sessa, and Morgan Bourc’his) were head to head in the final heat. Sessa came up easily at 213m, an impressive distance, but over 40m short of his PB. Had someone told him to be conservative to ensure a silver medal? If so, Morgan never got the memo, busting out a 227m PB to give France 821 points, and a massive lead over everyone–except Croatia. When Morgan surface cleanly, the mainly French audience erupted in applause at their compatriots’ extraordinary performances, and also for Colak and Croatia: 2012 Team World Champions.
Exciting it was, but will I judge a World Championship again? Hopefully, but now I’m focusing on diving. Watching the athletes dive in calm blue seas, and gliding through long dynamics in a 50m pool, made me want to dive even more: after two days of rest I was back in the sea, gym and mountains training, looking forward to competing at Vertical Blue in November.