Freediving: Michelle Ooi plunges 72m to set new Singapore women's constant weight record
Despite suffering two bouts of respiratory illnesses in the build-up to the May 25-29 Aida Freediving World Cup Mini Competition in Egypt, Singaporean Michelle Ooi broke the women's constant weight (CWT) national record four times en route to finishing fourth.
CWT is a freediving discipline in which one descends and ascends using their monofin and/or their arms without pulling on the rope or changing his or her ballast. Only a single hold of the rope to stop the descent and start the ascent is allowed. Aida is the International Association for the Development of Apnea, the global rule- and record-keeping body for competitive breath-holding events.
After eclipsing Lim Anqi's 2021 mark of 63m by one metre on May 25, Ooi went on to reach 66m and 69m, before a 72m dive on May 29 that helped her place fourth in a field of six.
Italy's Simona Auteri won the event with a depth of 88m, while Ukraine's Kateryna Sadurska (82m) and Turkey's Sahika Ercumen (80m) were second and third respectively.
The 32-year-old Ooi told The Straits Times: "It feels good to be the first woman in Singapore to reach this depth and inspire others to see that this is possible.
"The process was actually quite mentally intense. I had not done a depth competition in four years, so there were self-doubts and negative thoughts. But I had trained for this, so I know I could do it. It was a matter of staying focused and calm.
"I had reached 70m during training before, and in the end, I felt good with my first few dives, so on the last day I just went for a personal best."
For this competition, Ooi had flown to Egypt to train in Dahab for five weeks, but her preparations hit a snag when she contracted Covid-19. She recovered but then was hit by the flu one week before the event.
"For Covid, I had a really bad sore throat and felt tired, but thankfully, I didn't have fever or body aches," she said. "But I could feel my fitness level drop as being ill took away time from the adaptation. I recovered a week later, but I couldn't really take a full breath of air and had to slowly work my way back."
Ooi owns and runs Zen Freediving academy, a local freediving school, and is regional director at Molchanovs International, a company that develops education, equipment and training plans for freediving. She got involved in the sport in 2011, and in her first competition the following year, she became the first national women's CWT record holder with a 22m dive.
Since then, she has been trading the record with Lim. Her next competition will be in Greece in September.
She said: "For me, freediving is more than competitions, it is a lifestyle. It feels really nice and liberating to be underwater. I feel weightless and it helps me with stress management.
"Freediving training has become more developed, which has helped me know how to dive deeper. I want to see how much I can push physically and mentally."