Valentina Cafolla (26) from Croatia broke the freediving record under the ice with a 140m distance. The spectacular attempt took place at Lago di Anterselva in the Italian Alps with heavy snowfall, murky and unpleasant conditions under the water. Still, the young diver made it look easy and gracious. In an unbelievable turn of events, the world record that Valentina set in 2017 was broken on the same weekend, but she regained the throne only 36 hours later claiming the new record that will be hard to beat. Lago di Anterselva in the Italian Alps and Shiretokogo Lake on the Japanese island of Hokkaido were the scene of a world record duel in “dynamic free diving under ice” on the same weekend this February. In this discipline of apnea diving, the athletes have to dive as long a distance as possible under ice without assistance and without oxygen.

Croatian Valentina Cafolla’s 125 meters have been in the CMAS world record since 2017. Japanese champion Yasuko Ozeki initially improved on this record by one meter before Cafolla re-established the usual ranking exactly 36 hours and 45 minutes later and almost 9,000 kilometers away with an impressive 140 meters. In deep winter conditions with a water temperature of 3 degrees Celsius, heavy snowfall and at an unfavorable altitude of 1,600 meters, the 26-year-old from Rovinj needed exactly 1:40 minutes to cover the 140 meters with a single fin while reducing her pulse to 50 beats per minute.

After the successful attempt, the old and new world record holder was happy and excited: “In moments like this you know that all the training and effort has paid off.” As an encore, Cafolla also set the first world record with the double fin with a dive over 80 meters on the same weekend. Now, the kinesiology student’s next goal is the Freediving World Championships in Belgrade/Serbia this upcoming July, where she is aiming for a top ten place.

The apnea sport is part of the CMAS, the Olympic-recognized World Underwater Federation, and it contains various different disciplines: “Dynamic”, which is diving in horizontal movement, “Static”, which is all about floating in the water without moving for as long as possible, and the so called “Deep”, where the depth reached by the diver counts.

Valentina and I met for the first time in 2017 when she set her free dive record under the ice at 125m, and I was the only one privileged to capture it in my lenses. Those photos remained on the top list of all the events in my archive. I was happy and honored when Valentina’s father, also an experienced diver, invited me for this reunion. What makes this story even greater is that diving is kind of a family affair for the Cafolla’s. Valentina was interested in various sports, but diving was her passion since the early ages. Even on this attempt her father was the first responder, while her brothers were the ones who prepared the setting at the lake for her to make this record attempt.

Seven years ago, we had nice weather conditions, as opposed to now when we were welcomed with 24-hour heavy snowfall, the outside temperature was -7 Celsius degrees, and the underwater temperature was chilling 3 degrees, with 40 cm thick ice on the lake’s surface. The underwater was cloaked in darkness, it was murky, and, as described by one of my fellows on this project – “very unpleasant.” Despite these daunting conditions, Valentina remained unshaken. She was determined to conquer new limits. The moment I saw her self-confidence and strong will, I knew she would make it. It was great witnessing Valentina’s growth as an athlete over these seven years. From a talented young lady of 19 years only to a world-class athlete pushing the boundaries of her sport.

As Valentina dived, and made the impossible seem effortless, I coped with the challenges from a photographer’s standpoint. This spectacular attempt demanded and experience, in both photography and diving. The conditions were extreme. Under the water everything around me was pitch dark. When I looked up, I saw some unrealistic bubble creations and ice cracks, the temperature was low, and it was cold. And on top of everything, there was time pressure because I knew Valentina couldn’t be underwater for a long time.

Once submerged, I had to ensure my safety first in this unforgiving environment, and then to contemplate the perfect shot and the settings on my camera. But I was very determined and motivated, and in the end, I got even better results than I expected. Within hours, the photos from this record-breaking endeavor were published with almost all the biggest press agencies same as countless times across the biggest media worldwide. Now, when I combine all those photos, I took in 2017 with these new ones, they all have an even greater value, and the story becomes much bigger and more complete, which is special to me. It’s not easy to describe the satisfaction of capturing this demanding attempt and a record that will surely remain untouched for a long time.