It was generally reckoned there was no one better at holding their breath and plunging into the depths than Natalia Molchanova.
But on Tuesday it was announced the 53-year-old Russian was missing and feared dead, after disappearing while free-diving in the Balearic Sea, close to the Spanish island of Formentera.
A statement issued jointly by the athlete’s family and AIDA International, the international body that regulates the sport of free-diving, said Ms Molchanova had gone missing on Sunday while diving with colleagues. Efforts to try and locate her have been ongoing.
“She was diving without fins to around 30m to 40m and supposable got into strong underwater current,” said the statement. “She disappeared while diving approximately two miles northwest of the port of La Savina at Poniente de es Freus.”
The achievements of Ms Molchanova in a sport where competitors dive and swim without bottled oxygen, were nothing less than startling.
She was the world’s most decorated free-diver of all time, having amassed 20 individual gold medals and two team gold medals from the Free-diving World Championships.
Yet she even broke the traditional boundaries that separate male and female competitors in the highly demanding sport; in 2007 at World Championships in Maribor, Slovenia, her winning time in one of the disciplines was better than the winning male gold medal.
Ms Molchanova’s records included holding her breath for more than nine minutes and diving to a depth of 100m on a single breath, the first woman to break the barrier.
Ms Molchanova, who holds a PhD in Pedagogical Science and is the current present president of the Free-diving Federation of Russia, has two children, Oksana and Alexey.
“The cause of Natalia’s disappearance is unknown,” added the statement.
“But she was doing what she loved. Natalia has a passion for free-diving that burned so deep inside of her that she dedicated her life to it.”Reuse content