Excellence in extreme sports: three champion ladies

15 Jan 2013 23:30 | Armelle Loghmanian

Excellence in extreme sports: three champion ladies

This article includes two interviews:

a. By Alessandra Zocca to Giampiero Genovese 
b. By Giampiero Genovese to Ilaria Bonin, Isabelle Gillet and Maria Felicia Carraturo

a. By Alessandra Zocca to Giampiero Genovese 


Giampiero Genovese

Officer at the European Commission,
Free-diving apnea instructor, coach and trainer

Giampiero, could you please describe briefly what is apnea diving, including the different discipline types? 
Is apnea diving an Olympic sport? Are there any professional apnea divers? 
Do you always dive in swimming pools or do you also dive in the sea?

Currently apnea diving or free diving is not an Olympic sport. It used to be in the early days of the modern Olympic games, but it was abandoned because as an underwater sport it was not very visible to the public. In fact, the term "apnea" designates a sports event where the athlete holds his breath keeping the face below the surface of the water. The final purpose of this discipline is to dive deep into the sea or dive for as long as you can with one breath.

There are very few professional apnea divers (a dozen) and they are those who are the most involved in record breaking and can attract sponsors. 

The activity in the pool was seen at the beginning of modern apnea in the 50’s as a training opportunity to develop mental aspects and technique, then in modern free diving, pool disciplines like static (staying in the water while holding your breath) and dynamic (how long you can go with one breath) have become disciplines and are a matter of competition. 

As regard depth competitions disciplines are: 
  • Constant Weight which is going down following a security rope as deep as you can and coming back to the surface with the same ballast, it can be done with or without fins but the rope cannot be grabbed 
  • Free immersion is to go down just pulling on the rope, no use of the legs 
  • Variable Weight, which consists in going down with a ballast, releasing it and coming up with no weight 
  • No Limit discipline, which is going down with a ballast, releasing it and coming up with an artificial system (for instance an inflated balloon) 
  • Jump Blue discipline which consists in an event where the athlete must cover the maximum distance in apnea around a square of 15 (fifteen) meters side situated in a depth of 10 (ten) meters (this discipline is also called the cube).

Giampiero, do you think apnea diving has helped develop your personal qualities or had an influence on your business life?

Apnea diving is a discipline where the mental part counts for 80%. 
For this reason apnea training, like in any other sport which requires a strong mental effort, will impact your daily attitude. Capacity of concentration and lucidity, capacity of relaxation, correct and efficient breathing are the most evident results.

b. By Giampiero Genovese to Ilaria Bonin, Isabelle Gillet and Maria Felicia Carraturo

 Ilaria Bonin  Isabelle Gillet  Mariafelicia Carraturo
 World record champion of Dynamic (210 m - CMAS Federation) and of Jump Blue (169 m – CMAS Federation) and World record of Dynamic with no fins (163 m – All Federation)

 Belgian record champion of Dynamic Apnea (119 m – AIDA Federation)  Italian record champion of Free Immersion (- 62 m – AIDA federation) and CMAS Constant Weight (-68 m) and Aida Constant Weight (-79)

 What inspired you to choose this sporting discipline and to compete in apnea diving?

My inspiration is based on a challenge with myself. I have always been in a swimming pool since I was 3 years old, but the blue of the sea made me scared.
So, when I finished with my previous sport, water polo I started a free-diving course to overcome this fear. And I really felt in love with free-diving.

Everything started in 2003 when I met Umberto Pelizzari while I was working in the Bahamas for the Club Med. I joined the discovery training he gave and I enjoyed being in the water and learning how to feel good by swimming as long as possible with only one breath:).
Time passed but I didn’t forget these beautiful moments. Eight years later I crossed the path of free divers that convinced me to come and try this in a pool. Quite a difference but I immediately recovered the good sensations I had before.
For me free-diving is completely different from the other sports. I practised several sports like tennis, swimming, volley ball, hockey. In these sports you need to develop power, strength, speed and by producing stress, energy, adrenaline,… in free diving you have to transform all this into complete relaxation. This became my first challenge.
My meeting with Giampiero was the way to go back to compete again. I love challenges and competition. But the way you compete in free-diving is quite different from what I used to do in other sports. With a nice balance between performance and pleasure, as taught by Giampiero during his trainings, I couldn’t resist to rediscover my competition mood again. 

I like the sea and I started to go deep very soon, so I became curious to discover my limits.

 How would you define “excellence” in your sport?
I think it is every time that someone overcomes himself: his thoughts, his fear, his mental and physical limit.
The excellence is when you do a good dive, when you feel the water, when all the time you spent during training makes the performance the best.

Working and being rigorous, sharing and enjoying… being willing to learn and having the determination to go forward…motivation and a bit self-confidence…. these are the little elements that makes your performance grow and produce excellence.
I would say that the results are not the ultimate aim, but it is the performance you give that is important.
Excellence is not only a distance or a time in free diving but it is the philosophy you develop that will bring you to a state of excellence and at the same time help your performance.
“Enjoying each beautiful trip you do when you dive” that is also a way of excellence in free diving.

To go deep always with good sensations and a smiling face.

 What are the main challenges to become a record-holding champion?
Work with your mind. Because without it you cannot go anywhere. The mind and our beliefs are very strong and if we don’t work on it we cannot improve. But the beliefs are related to feelings and emotions, so you must learn to recognize it, and then, work to modify it.

Keeping on training, enjoying, learning, discovering, always believe in your abilities, being self- confident, listening to your body and having a friendly attitude with yourself…
The most important point is keeping a good balance among all these elements. This is the way that leads you to beautiful moments such as breaking a record and becoming a record holder.

First of all I had to face cultural barriers. I explain better: I started competitions in this sport very late, not very young, with two children to bring up …a woman…all this in a context where everybody was against my decision and not believing in my choice, even my mother, who now in fact is my best supporter and helps me a lot with my children.
Secondly to assert oneself in world made by “macho men” some of them suffering from being beaten by a woman older than them...

 Is apnea diving mainly a male sport? If so, why? What holds women back? Are there, in this sport, areas where women excel and vice versa?

I think the problem is that many women think that free-diving is only for extraordinary athletes and they don’t try it at all. Before becoming a champion, you must live in the water with the curiosity and the happiness of a child; you must play and feel good. Everyone can try this, everyone can be relaxed in the water and only after this you can try and overcome your emotions. Men can go further or deeper than a woman because they have better physical gifts. But the sensation, the feelings, the emotions are the same.

I don’t think it is mainly a male sport, maybe in competition! Why?
I would say that women are more involved in other kind of activities.
Days are long and when I talk with all my girlfriends (between 28-40 years old) they simply don’t have the time or I would say they don’t take the time for themselves. It is hard with our rhythm of life today to spend time, a lot of time in a sport or any activity.
With a family and children I think it’s very hard for a woman to go on and to continue to perform. Like every other thing in life, when you stop it is very difficult to start again and it’s harder to come back to your best level. This is maybe one of the reasons why they are fewer women than men in free diving competitions.

On the other hand I know some women who are addicted to the discipline but don’t like to compete. They come to enjoy the trainings and that’s enough. No stress, no pressure, no (competition) aim, just relaxing and having a good time. It’s just the way you want to approach the practice of the activity. So I think they could be as many women as men practicing free diving.

I think men and women can excel in that sport the same way but each with their basic abilities and capacities.

No, this is not just a sport for men, but, as in most of the sports, the women started to practice it later than men…so…this is, for me, the only reason why the women are not doing so well with performances. Do not forget that at least in Italy till the beginning of the last century it was not allowed for women to practice sports or competitions.

 Could you describe your feelings, emotions and thoughts at the end of the competition when you realized YOU were the record-holding champion?

I remember with more pleasure the Jump Blue competition. I did my performance and I was first and after me only one athlete was left: Sophie Jaquin, of the French team. I was really happy when I came out of the water because I had very good feelings underwater, and when Sophie was disqualified for a wrong surface protocol and I realized that the title and the world record was mine, I felt a giant wave of warmth and happiness coming up inside me. And my happiness was double because I reached the same target as my trainer Mike Maric. He did the world record in jump blue in 2004 and when I reached it I was full of joy, because he won a second time, with me.

First you don’t really realise. Especially for me, my aim was not to break the record. My aim was to do my best at my best level. I was surprised and happy at the same time.
My motivation was on top and I was thankful to my coach, family and friends that were supporting me. My trip to get the record was beautiful…I really enjoyed it and had a good experience. It is a good start to go on and try to do better in a next competition. The record is one thing but doing a record while enjoying and being well all the way through…that’s my pleasure!
Happiness, being proud of myself and being thankful were the main feelings when I realised that I broke the record.

I was so happy, my target was achieved…and I thought…”my sons can be proud of me”.

 What would you recommend to a lady - let’s say a business woman - who would like to learn apnea diving?
I would like to tell her to take pleasure to staying in the water. Look at the colour inside it; hear the sound of the wave and how the water transforms every sound. I would like to tell her to be herself, to join the water and be happy like a kid. Kids are better divers than us, we can learn from them.

I would recommend to her to take the time to discover the activity. By going on in learning free diving you go on by discovering step by step a little bit more of yourself. It is also a good way to take some time for yourself. You can have the choice to do it in very smooth way but if you like challenges there is also a possibility to practice in that way. No rush, take the time, enjoy each “trip” and give yourself the opportunity to continue.
Free diving is a philosophy, a way of life….so taste it and you will be addicted because it brings you a plus in your daily life!!!

It could be a marvellous idea!
Apnea can change your mind, your feeling, your way to live your life.

Short Biography

Ilaria Bonin

Ilaria was born in Busto Arsizio Italy, in 1984. When she was very young she started swimming as a sport and then in 1993 joined a water polo team. In 2007 she decided to “try” free-diving and since then she fell in love with this discipline and started to collect a number of records.

Isabelle Gillet

Isabelle was born in Brussels (Belgium) in 1980. At 14 years old she started swimming competitions. In 2002 she obtained a University Degree in Sports. After some years of travelling around the word she finally settled down in Brussels and started free-diving discipline in 2011.  
Mariafelicia Carraturo

Maria Felica Carraturo was born (more than 40 years ago) in Naples, Italy where she still lives. She studied economy and she is the mother of two boys. When her first child was born In 2002 she decided to leave her job to dedicate her time to her children and to the passion of her life: apnea. With her family she owns a famous pastry making shop in Naples, “Pasticceria Carraturo” where she also works during the main holiday periods.
 http://www.facebook.com/ilaria.bonin  babel8@yahoo.fr  feliciacarraturo@email.it

 Short Biography of Giampiero Genovese 
 Giampiero Genovese was born in Pompei in Italy in 1965. He became Free diving Instructor (Apnea Academy) and Trainer in 2006. He collaborates with many apnea champions such as Umberto Pelizzari the famous Italian Free Diving Champion and world record holder and Patrick Musimu the first man who made a descent below 200 m in No Limit. He is a European Commission Officer, who lives and gives free-diving courses in Brussels – Belgium.


Disclaimer -     
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of of the European Commission, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

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