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5 Vertical Blue Competitors That Make Freediving Worth Watching

UK Pool Freediver | Sarah Russell | Train Freediving

So Vertical Blue (VB) just came to a close, and I wanted to take this opportunity to really highlight some of the best freedivers in the world.

VB is kinda known as the most ‘elite’ competition other than the world championships, but due to its format, 3 sets of 3 days each, allowing divers to compete up to a total of 6 times, this is where you start to get some crazy & exciting performances, and the most National & World records of any competition.

Of course, this type of competition comes with its drawbacks. Since the opportunity, and to a certain extent, the expectation to push is there some divers overstep their abilities, either repetitively early-turning or having BOs & LMCs. Of course, as a coach and competitor, this isn’t my favourite thing to see, and certainly not what I think new divers should learn to expect from competitive freediving.

So.. that being said, I want to showcase some of the best divers, not just from a numerical performance standpoint but also based on their overall approach to competitive freediving.

From a coaching perspective, these are divers who I believe could (or should) be role models for new freedivers trying to get into competitive freediving, and even more experienced freedivers looking for a better, safer, and more enjoyable way to perform the sport.

Each of the divers that I will talk about has to some degree one or more things that I believe make a diver great. These things include;

  • -Diving WITHIN their limits
  • -Consistency
  • -Technique
  • -Composure
  • -Discipline

To me, numerical results are simply a product of the training and the approach you take to your diving. If you can excel in these areas and make building them your focus, then by default (and time spent training), the results will come.

So here are the top 5 divers, in my opinion, who showed these things. I believe they are the real role models of VB, and should serve as inspiration for your own approach to training, freediving, and competing.

1) Alenka Artnik

In my opinion, the #1 diver of VB this year was Alenka. She basically represents everything that you need to do if you want to achieve great results for yourself. Not only did she set WR after WR (118, 120, 122 CWT), she did it within the confines of the 5 points that I’m looking for.

She surfaced super fresh and clean from each dive. She dove in exactly the same way every time. She used excellent technique for the entire dive, and she remained composed before, during, and after each performance.

Most importantly, in my opinion, she showed great discipline. In one of her post-dive interviews (after 122m) she said {paraphrased} that ‘she woke up a little nervous that morning, so she knew it would be her last dive’. Instead of attempting WRs until failure, she stopped while she was still perfectly fresh & with plenty of margin left in the tank.

2) Alexey Molchanov

Alexey is, of course, another diver who deserves a ton of credit. Through the comp, he set (CMAS) WRs in all 4 disciplines, 3 of them being out-right WRs between CMAS & AIDA.

He did; 131 CWT, 126 FIM, 118 CWTb, and the only non-absolute WRs were 87 & 90 CNF.

Of course, this was remarkable because he did 5 WRs & 3 competition PBs without any *yellow or red cards or even an LMC. So each dive was completely within his limits, and he was fully prepared for them

*Technically, he got 1 yellow card, but this was on purpose. (I think) as a joke he started a 120m CWTb WR dive with small silicone fins & he turned at 100m.

Something that I (and the commentators) noticed was that Alexey's technique wasn’t exactly the best in this comp, especially in the CWTb discipline. I think the word the commentators used was “interesting”.

But.. Considering that he surfaced from every dive basically 100% fresh for 5x WR dives in all 4 disciplines, it’s impossible to argue that he didn’t dive in the best overall way, at least for himself.

3) Sahika Ercumen

Sahika had an extremely strong comp. After competing in all ranking (CWT, FIM & CNF) disciplines, she accumulated enough points for 2nd overall with all super clean white cards. So all-in-all a consistent and clean competition for her.

Something that was nice to watch was that even on her deepest dives (90m CWT NR) she was composed, relaxed, and clean on the surface, completing all of her dives, in all disciplines, with good quality technique which lasted from start to finish.

I think every time she surfaced (of course after proper recovery breathing), she had a smile on her face & looked like the dives were a really enjoyable experience. This is something that I love to see, as it actually makes the sport look beautiful & peaceful like it's supposed to be.

Watch Sahika’s 77m FIM dive at 4:50:30 of VB day 3:

4) Arnaud Jerald

Arnaud is another great diver who was hitting ridiculously big dives in the CWTb discipline. In the comp he set two (temporary) WRs & French NRs in bi-fins with monster dives to 116 & 117m.

Although you could clearly see massive lactic build-up towards the final 20m of the dives (which is COMPLETELY expected in bi-fins) Arnaud surfaced perfectly clean & performed his surface protocols with control and ease. These WRs were clearly not ‘let’s push and see what happens' dives. They were prepared for and completely within his abilities!

Something else worth bringing attention to was the discipline he showed in his CWT announcement. In theory, monofin is a much easier, faster, and deeper discipline than CWTb, however, I assume that Arnaud spent most of his time preparing for these CWTb dives.

So even though he was fresh on 117m CWTb dives and has already done +110m in CWT in other comps, he only announced a 90m CWT, which is probably reflective of the time he spent training that secondary discipline in the build-up to VB.

It’s very easy to let the ego announce: Go Big or Go Home style.. So I really think he deserves a lot of credit for staying disciplined & safe with his second discipline announcement since we can assume he didn’t spend much time training it.

5) Florian Burghardt

Although Florian started the comp with an early turn, he showed really great diving afterwards. Building confidently from 80, 82, to an 84 CWT Swiss NR, all under complete control, with excellent technique for the entire dive(s) down & up to the surface, and with completely fresh surface protocols.

Again, similar to Arnaud, I assume that Florian’s focus was the CWT discipline with the goal of setting the new NR.

What’s great for me to see is that he again showed excellent discipline and focus. Even though he was plenty clean enough for 83+, he chose to stop after achieving his NR and leave his CWT with a nice and perfectly clean dive.

After that, he announced conservative dives in the other disciplines, which all looked to be purely pleasurable and fun for him. As I said with Arnauld, it’s easy to ‘go big or go home’, but it’s much nicer for me to see someone just doing what they are truly confident and capable of doing and leaving meters in the tank for next time.

Check out Flo’s NR starting at 1:09:00 of day 6:

Role Model Divers

So like I said at the beginning, there are all kinds of freedivers. For me, the most interesting ones aren’t necessarily the ones with the biggest performances, but the ones who show the best overall approach to freediving.

Part of this is performance, which is why 3 WR level divers are on the list, but they are only there because of their other attributes.

They showed the self-awareness to only announce and dive within their limits. They dove consistently across multiple dives. They were diving with really good overall technique (except Alexey’s bi fins haha). They all showed composure & relaxation before & during their dives. None of them approached their dives with the ‘death or glory’ mindset and were all completely disciplined with stopping their progressions according to what they were prepared for, and confident in doing.

So, if you want to go through the 9 days of comp, and see some divers who I’d suggest modelling your approach to diving after, I’d keep an eye out for; Alenka, Alexey, Sahika, Arnaud, and Florian.