A VERY COLD - very wet world record : Deep beneath Siberian ice, a free-diving champion confronts his own depths.

When the champion free diver and multiple world-record holder Alexey Molchanov stepped into the streaked ice on Lake Baikal in southern Siberia on March 16, the sky was cobalt blue.

The sun illuminated the surrounding mountains, the wind was light, and the air was balmy 14 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 10 Celsius.

It was the perfect day for a swim.

But this wasn't polar bear plunge. Molchanov, 34, hoped to swim 80 meters, or approximately 262 feet, beneath the one-meter-thick icy surface and back up on single breath.

In the process, he would break yet another world record : the deepest free dive under the ice with fins.

Dressed in a thick, blue wet suit and gloves, he slid into a monofin, then slipped into a square, three meters by three meters, cut in the ice, where he clipped onto a thin rope that disappeared into the inky water.

He deployed a technique that his mother, Natalia Molchanova, the most decorated free diver of all time, first developed and taught, and Molchanov has taken worldwide. She called it deconcentration. Instead of taking in the scene, he detached from it, both visually and psychologically.

He focused on taking long, deep, rhythmic breaths until his heart slowed and he entered a meditative state.

Then he sipped the air through pursed lips until the lungs were fully inflated, from his diaphragm to the tiny air pockets between and behind his shoulder blades. Finally he ducked below the surface, and disappeared.

Nearly 100 spectators and a throng of Russian news media waited on the surface above him.

This dive was more difficult than most. His wet suit was seven times thicker than normal, which made it more challenging to kick against the buoyancy in the first 10 meters of depth.

All that effort demanded that h tap into his finite supply of oxygen, To keep warm, he wore a mask, something he typically avoids on deep dives, which meant he had to hold his nose between his thumb and forefinger instead of using a nose clip.

Within 20 seconds he'd reached 20 meters and puffed his cheeks out to create a vacuum for the remaining air in his lungs to fill.

On typical dives, he stores this ''mouth-fill'' and uses it to equalize the sinuses to keep them pressurized, to prevent pain and injury, without having to worry about leaks. But in a water that was around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, his lips numbed quickly, and he had to clamp them shut with his fingers, his thumb and forefingers on his nose, his middle and ring fingers on his lips.

On the slow drop toward 80 meters, the sound of crackling ice rippled through the water, the barometric pressure cranked up, and it was painfully cold.

His job was to accept it all and remain relaxed, no matter how awful it felt or what happened next.

The World Students Society thanks author Adam Skolnick.


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