They call him “the car,” the undisputed king of the abyss, for the punishing depths into which he plunges with a single breath. Thirty-four-year-old Alexey Molchanov holds 24 world records in the fast-growing extreme sport of free diving. Last July, 60 Minutes was with him when he broke another record, diving 430 meters – more than the length of a football field – while holding his breath underwater for more than four and a half minutes without a scuba tank.
Molchanov is part of a growing number of free elite divers who gather every year at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas to compete against each other in the “Blue Vertical Competition”. Sharyn Alfonsi was there to report on the dizzying story for the next edition of 60 Minutes, on Sunday, September 26 at 19:00 ET / PT on CBS.
Molchanov has been almost unbeatable in three of the four free diving disciplines, competing against himself and working to break his records. He is far from work, Alfonsi tells him.
“I dont think [I am finished]With I know with all the skills I have, with all the mind control I have, I can go deeper and so because I can, then I will, “says Molchanov.” I like to find new frontiers and push them further because I know I can. “I know during all these years and thousands of hours of training and diving how well I can use my oxygen, how slowly I can use it and how efficient my technique is.”
The technique is critical as the sport is extremely dangerous. Submitting the human body to water pressure at this depth can cause confusion, disruption, and serious, sometimes fatal, injuries. About 60 non-recreational divers die each year — though there has only been one death in a free diving race in the last 20 years as organizers work to make the sport safer. Free competing divers must grab an in-depth label to confirm their descent and then prove they are alert within 20 seconds of coming to the surface to count the dive. Competitions are conducted using safety measures involving lifeguards.
Molchanov learned his technique from his mother, former Russian swimmer Natalia Molchanova, considered the greatest free diver of all time. By the age of 53 she held 42 world records and was on her way to further greatness when she lost tragically off the coast of Spain while giving a free diving lesson. Her death was a blow to Molchanov, but a sport that helped her overcome.
“I felt that free diving is actually the best thing for me. It was the best therapy to be in the water,” he says. “It just helped me be at peace and helped me live it.”
Molchanov and his wife Elena, a former Olympic swimmer, are holding on to their mother’s legacy. Natalia Molchanova started several free diving schools before her death as they are expanding, certifying hundreds of instructors in 20 countries.
For free diving Molchanov is not just about sport, but about the joy and feeling he gets every time he goes to those depths, telling Alfonsi, “It feels a lot like actually flying. Much like freedom. Just pure joy. of flight, standing and not wanting to breathe. “
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