“This one did not stink at all,” said correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi as she gleefully reminisced about her latest 60 Minutes report, on the sport of free diving. The story took her to the Bahamas where she profiled the sport’s marquee male athlete Alexey Molchanov
Molchanov, a 34-year-old Russian, captured his first world record more than a dozen years ago. Today, he holds 24.
“I was expecting Alexey Molchanov to be this kind of stern Russian,” Alfonsi told 60 Minutes Overtime. “His nickname’s ‘The Machine.’ So that makes you think you’re going to be interviewing one type of person. But he is exuberant, and friendly, and joyful, and just a ton of fun to be around… always smiling, which is how he got his other nickname, which is ‘The Golden Retriever.'”
With our 60 Minutes cameras rolling, retrieve is exactly what Molchanov did. Sporting his signature gold wetsuit, he plunged 430 feet into the water to fetch a tag attached to a mast that proves the diver reached their goal. Molchanov’s world record dive lasted 4:33. He did it on a single breath.
“You learn how to let go of pressure, of tension, and just, like, enjoy it,” Molchanov explained to Alfonsi. “I do these records only because I can let go. I can enjoy the dive. And I can just stop thinking about the time.”
Before descending into the depths of the ocean, Molchanov performs “lung packing,” a breathing technique that allows him to inflate his lungs with as much as two gallons of air and stay underwater for minutes at a time. It is a technique Molchanov has perfected and one he wanted to teach Alfonsi.
“I started off, I think, underwater, I could hold my breath for 20 or 30 seconds” said Alfonsi. “And after Alexey kind of taught me these deep breathing techniques, I was able to be in the water holding my breath for about two minutes.”
Alfonsi is not the only disciple of the Molchanov technique. He and his wife Elena, a former Olympic swimmer, operate a set of freediving schools. They have certified hundreds of instructors in 20 countries.
Instructors who are training the next generation of free divers. Athletes who continue to pursue and drive the sport’s leading man.
“I didn’t hit my limit,” said Molchanov. “I’m pretty sure the next 10 years, the next 20 years, I will be diving or some of my competitors will be diving to 140, 150 meters depth with a monofin… Ten years from now, I’m sure there’ll be something I will be able to do, or new generation athletes will be able to do to move… even deeper.”
In the meantime, two decades seems a far way off for an athlete that is only beginning the prime of his career. Then again, time can be a great equalizer. Perhaps it is the only thing that can destroy “The Machine” and allow a new face to replace Molchanov at the sport’s summit, or in this case, the nadir.
The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.