Images: Williams Holds Breath For Record Attempt
9 December 2003
Sport psychologist Ant Williams has today announced an attempt on the New Zealand breathhold record.
The Auckland freediver will take the plunge at the SKYCITY swimming pool on Sunday (December 14), aiming to break the current national record of 5 minutes and 10 seconds.
The 31-year-old, who only took up the sport two and a half years ago while in France, is already cracking the record in training and is confident of pushing the time out to the five and a half to six minute mark.
"It will be a real challenge to break the record with a crowd watching," Williams commented. "The key is not to get too hyped up. Having the adrenalin racing is the last thing I need when I'm trying to stay calm and lower my heart rate."
There are three different types of breathhold disciplines - static or pure apnéa (French for 'without oxygen'), dynamic (how far you can swim underwater in a pool) and constant weight (how far you can descend into the depths of a lake or ocean).
The dynamic discipline is his best to date - he can swim 160 metres underwater on one breath - and he has reached a depth of 50 metres in the constant weight discipline.
Globally, breathholding has a huge following. At the last World Championships more than 25 countries competed. The Europeans are the worlds best, but the Canadians are becoming increasingly competitive.
Williams has to overcome a number of obstacles to train and compete.
The 'fringe' nature of the sport means sponsorship is hard to come by. What's more, his sport has no national body in New Zealand and it isn't recognised by SPARC, which administers government support to athletes.
Finding the time to train and athletes to train with can also be a hindrance.
"I train at three different pools depending on who is available to fit in with me," Williams said. "My aim is to spend time training and competing in Europe because I need to benchmark myself against the world's best and see how far I can go in the sport."
Breathholding is a dangerous sport and there have been numerous fatalities, particularly in the pursuit of records. Only last year the world's top-ranked female competitor, Audrey Mestre, died while attempting a No Limits sled-assisted dive in the ocean.
Williams himself has never passed out or needed medical assistance, but he will be taking every precaution during his record attempt. His most regular training partner, Reid Quinlan, will be coordinating safety and a dive paramedic will be one of three people in the pool with him - the others will be a judge and the official timekeeper.
"It's going to be full on," Williams said. "At the four-minute mark you feel the blood leaving your hands and feet and you can actually hear your heart slowing down.
"It's an exceptionally uncomfortable feeling and you have to overcome your body's natural instincts for survival."
Williams will be calling on all the experience he's gained as a sports psychologist to break the record.
After achieving a degree in Physical Education, Williams spent another two years gaining a Masters (MSc) in Psychology. He has been working in the psych field since 1997.
His clients have included two Super 12 Rugby teams, world class motorcycle racers, top New Zealand surfers and Olympic athletes.
The top static breathhold records in the top countries are:
1.Austria (Herbert Nische 8:06 World Record)
2.France (Stephanie Mifsud 8:04)
3.Denmark (Stig Avall Severinsen 7:23)
4.Belgium (Nicolas Druine 7:14)
5.Canada (Luc Gosselin 7:14)
6.Germany (Herbert Maier 7:02)
Williams would like to have the New Zealand record eclipse the Portugal record of Manuel Lima (at 5:29) and United Kingdom effort of 5:48 set by Lee Donnelly.