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The freediving community is in mourning after the disappearance of one of the sportâ€™s greatest luminaries. Natalia Molchanova, a Russian freediving champion and the single most decorated individual in the sportâ€™s history, did not resurface after a dive off the coast of Spain on Sunday, August 4th. Spanish rescue teams, including a specialist police-diver unit, spent more than two days searching for Molchanova, but eventually called off the search on the following Wednesday.
The circumstances of Molchanovaâ€™s disappearance are not yet fully known. According to her son Alexey, who is also a respected competitive freediver, she was giving a private lesson to two novice freedivers in waters off Poniente de es Freus when the incident occurred. It is thought that Molchanova set up a safety line for the students to a depth of approximately 66 feet (20 m), but that while they were resting, she descended on her own to a depth of 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 m). During the dive, Molchanova became separated from the group, and as far as witnesses are aware, never resurfaced.
Theories abound as to what may have happened to Molchanova on what appears to be her final dive. Some believe that she may have become entangled, or that she may have experienced a sudden loss of consciousness â€” blackouts are the most common cause of freediving fatalities. According to Alexey, there was a strong current raging beneath the surface at Poniente de es Freus on the day that Molchanova disappeared. And yet, this was a woman with 13 years of freediving experience, known as â€œthe Queenâ€ within competitive circles, who had no fewer than 23 world championship titles to her name.
Molchanova set 41 world records in both pool and open-water freediving disciplines during her professional career. Most recently, she extended her own Freediving World Record for Constant Weight Apnea No Fins to 234 feet (71 m) just days after her 53rd birthday. In light of such experience, her disappearance is as shocking as it is tragic, especially as the dayâ€™s dives were well within her proven capabilities. This sentiment was echoed in a statement from Kimmo Lahtinen, the president of the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA). He said of Molchanova, â€œshe was a freediving superstar, and we all thought nothing could harm herâ€¦but, you know, we are playing with the ocean, and when you play with the ocean, you know who is the strongest one.â€
Unless Molchanovaâ€™s body is found, it is unlikely that we will ever know exactly what happened. The Queen of freediving once described her passion as more than a sport, calling it â€œa way to understand who we are.â€ When faced with the possibility that he may never be able to put his motherâ€™s body to rest, Alexey finds peace in the fact that she died doing what she loved most. When the rescue attempts were called off, he said, â€œIt seems she will stay in the sea. I think she would like that.â€
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