The Extraordinary Life of Natalia Molchanova

The Extraordinary Life of Natalia Molchanova
By Kristina Zvaritch

You’ve probably heard the name, but how much do you really know about freediving legend Natalia Molchanova?

Natalia Molchanova, considered by many as the "queen of freediving", had a truly inspirational freediving career.

Over the course of her life, Natalia Molchanova:
  • Set 42 world records
    • 21 pool world records
    • 21 depth world records
  • Earned 22 World Championship medals
    • 19 gold individual medals
    • 3 gold team medals
    • 1 silver team medal
  • Periodically held the title of World Record Holder of all 6 competitive freediving disciplines simultaneously
  • Continuously held the world record in Static (STA) since August 2005
    • Her final STA World Record of 9 minutes and 2 seconds remains unbroken today, 11 years later
  • Held the Variable Weight (VWT) World Record for 3 years
Competitive freediving is relatively young, which means that many world records are set and broken every year. But Natalia Molchanova will forever remain in freediving history as a woman of firsts.

She was the first woman to:
  • Hold her breath for 7, 8, and 9 minutes
  • Dive the Arch in Dahab’s Blue Hole in Egypt
  • Dive 200m (656ft) in Dynamic with Fins (DYN)
  • Reach 100m (328ft) of depth in Constant Weight with Fins (CWT)
While Natalia achieved all of these incredible feats in her freediving career, her life wasn't without its challenges. But despite the highs and lows, her resilience, compassion, and steady commitment to making the world a better place through freediving shone brightly.

Join us in honoring Natalia's life and celebrating her accomplishments with this small tribute to her extraordinary life.

Natalia’s early life

Natalia Molchanova was born on May 8th, 1962, in the Russian city of Ufa. As a child, Natalia’s chosen sport was figure skating. But in 3rd grade, she fell in love with the weightlessness of swimming. As she got older and left to study at the University of Physical Culture and Sport in Volgograd, Natalia began exploring finswimming. She excelled beyond expectations, earning a ‘Master of Sport’ title, and began participating in finswimming competitions.

At the age of 23, however, Natalia had to stop competing. But it was for a good reason - she gave birth to her daughter Oksana in 1985 and, just two short years later, to her son Alexey in 1987. Natalia continued to swim, but only for exercise. Alexey remembered her taking him to swimming practice at 6 in the morning, then jumping in the lane next to him to swim freestyle.

But life took a difficult turn for Natalia in the early 2000s - her husband left their family. At about the same time, her children moved far away: Oksana to Moscow to study at an architectural university, and Alexey to Saint Petersburg to train finswimming at the School of the Olympic Reserve.

Natalia discovers freediving

However, life opened a new door for Natalia in 2002. At 40 years old, while sitting and reading a journal, she happened to read an article about freediving by Julia Petrik. Something clicked, and Natalia decided to give it a try for herself. After several training sessions with Julia, her life suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

Natalia’s inspiration led her all the way to Moscow, where she began teaching underwater sports at the Russian State University of Physical Education and Sports. There, she became an associate professor, published over 20 articles, completed her Ph.D., and taught countless students who spent their time learning and scientifically researching freediving.

Then, in 2004, the 3 Molchanov family members were finally reunited in Moscow when Alexey began his engineering studies at Stankin University.

Natalia conquers the freediving world

2003 - First national and world records in pool

Natalia’s competitive spirit quickly took over. On April 26th, 2003, she joined her first pool National Championship. Already, she placed first overall and set her first national record in DYN with 142m (466ft). But she had her sights set on something greater. Just a month later, on May 26th, she set her first world record in DYN, swimming 150m (492ft) in Limassol, Cyprus.

Photo credit - Daan Verhoeven

2004 - Began producing the first freediving monofin

While finswimming monofins were already on the market, they were created with speed disciplines in mind. Natalia wanted to create a monofin that would strike a balance between power and relaxation. And so, in 2004, she began the revolutionary work of producing freediving monofins in Russia. Today, 20 years later, Molchanovs International continues Natalia’s work by constantly improving monofins made for freediving.

2004 - First continental record

In November of 2004, Natalia made waves in the competitive depth freediving world by setting her first continental record in Constant Weight No Fins (CNF) to 43m (141ft) at the Sinai Last Chance competition.

The very next year, in 2005, Natalia became the first woman to dive the Blue Hole Arch in Dahab, Egypt. She also co-founded the Freediving Federation that same year with the aim of introducing more people to freediving and spreading its philosophy.

2005 - First woman to hold her breath for 7 minutes

Later, in August of 2005, Natalia won all 3 gold medals and set 3 world records at the 1st AIDA Individual Pool World Freediving Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland. She became the first woman to hold her breath for 7 minutes with a 7 minute and 16 second STA performance. She also swam 124m (407ft) in Dynamic No Fins (DNF), and completed a 178m (584ft) DYN dive.

2005 - First depth world record and first time holding World Records in all competitive freediving disciplines simultaneously

Natalia set her first depth world record just a month later at the 1st AIDA Individual Constant Weight World Freediving Championship in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. Her 86m (282ft) dive also earned her a gold medal. Her next two depth world records were set another 2 months later, in November of 2005, at the Triple Depth competition in Dahab. This time, she reached 55m (180ft) in CNF and 78m (256ft) in FIM.

These last two world records meant that, in 2005, Natalia became the reigning World Record Holder in all competitive freediving disciplines simultaneously. She stands as the only athlete in freediving history to achieve this remarkable feat, periodically re-earning the title for a total of 5 years and 5 months.

Photo credit - Daan Verhoeven

2007 - Unsuccessful World Championship performances

One of Natalia’s most famous quotes was, “Switch from aim of depth in freediving to what you feel underwater.” It’s important to remember that, while Natalia made winning medals and achieving victories look easy, she still had dives that ended up as learning experiences. One of these learning experiences was her participation at the 4th AIDA Individual World Championship in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, on October 2007. There, Natalia didn’t win any medals, received a red card for blacking out on a 95m (312ft) CWT dive, and didn’t go through with a planned CNF dive.

2009 - First woman to break the 100m barrier

But on September 27th, 2009, Natalia made yet another great leap in freediving history. She became the first woman to pass 100m (328ft) diving CWT with her dive to 101m (331ft) in Sharm-el-Sheikh. Unfortunately, two of the records she set in 2009 were repealed by AIDA a full 8 months after she set them. This was due to the introduction of a new rule about the roles of the people involved in the competition organization, which was applied retroactively and had nothing to do with the athlete or her performance.

2010 - Earned her Ph.D. and co-founded Molchanovs

2010 was a big year above water for Natalia. She was awarded a Ph.D. with her pedagogical sciences thesis: Laying the basis in training of competitive freedivers. It was also the year she co-founded Molchanovs. While Natalia focused more on the education side under the Freediving Federation, her son Alexey took over Molchanovs gear production.

2011 - Officially set the women’s CWT World Record to 100m

Two years after Natalia had already broken the 100m barrier, she successfully performed a 100m CWT dive again in competition - and this time, it was official and unquestionable. At Vertical Blue 2011, she made 3 unsuccessful attempts to reach the fateful depth, but on the fourth attempt, she emerged at the surface victorious. In total, Natalia made 5 attempts in total to set the CWT World Record of 100m. Today, freedivers continue to celebrate their entry into the ‘100m Club.’

In September 2011, Natalia dominated the AIDA Individual Depth World Championship. While she received a red card for her 64m (210ft) CNF dive due to an extra pull, she earned 2 gold medals and world records - one for her 88m (289ft) FIM dive and one for her 101m CWT dive. The CWT World Record stayed Natalia’s for 6 years until May 2017, when Alessia Zecchini added 1 more meter to the record.

2012 - Created and led the first official Freediving Federation Instructor course

In January 2012, Natalia went on to lead the first Freediving Federation Instructor course in Dahab. Before this course, very few people held instructor status for the Freediving Federation. But Natalia’s 10-day course included her own teaching materials and manual and candidates hand-picked by Natalia herself.

In fact, since 2004, Natalia had been actively teaching freediving in the pool, open water, and at university. She arranged freediving trips, camps, and workshops, helping students take their first steps into freediving by developing all the necessary skills. These ranged from swimming techniques and equalization to relaxation and concentration, and even how to take part in competitions successfully. She gathered an extensive theoretical and practical base and gained comprehensive experience, which led her to eventually develop a course for freediving instructors.

This is how the Molchanovs Freediving Education System originated. From the very first group of instructor candidates taught by Natalia herself, Evgeny Sychev became among the first Molchanovs Instructor Trainers. The Molchanovs Freediving Education System adapted Natalia's educational materials and manuals, translating them into 14 languages.

2012 - Set a world record simultaneously with Alexey

Then, in the summer of 2012, in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Natalia and Alexey made freediving history. They became the first mother-and-son pair in the history of sports to set world records on the same day. Natalia reached 127m (417ft) in Variable Weight, while Alexey dived to 125m (410ft) in CWT.

Photo credit - Denis Rylov

2013 - First woman to hold her breath for 9 minutes

In June 2013, she earned 3 gold medals and set 3 world records again at the Individual AIDA Pool World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. She dove 234m (768ft) in DYN and held her breath for 9 minutes and 2 seconds, making her the first woman to hold her breath for over 9 minutes. Even 11 years later, Natalia’s STA World Record still stands unbeaten today.

Just 3 months later, at the AIDA Individual Depth World Championship 2013 in Kalamata, Greece, Natalia grabbed 3 more gold medals and set another 2 world records. She dove 96m (315ft) in CWT, made a world-record performance of 69m (226ft) in CNF, and set a FIM World Record to 91m (299ft), which lasted for 5 years until July 2018, when Alessia Zecchini dove to 93m (305ft).

2014 - Last depth and pool world records

Natalia’s final depth world record was set on May 15th, 2014, in Dahab. She dove 70m (230ft) in CNF, and that record stayed hers until April 2016, when it was beaten by Sayuri Kinoshita.

In September of 2014, Natalia attended the AIDA Team World Championships and earned a gold medal. She also set a DYN World Record with a 237m (778ft) swim. This would be the last pool world record of her career, and it would stay hers until July 2018, when Magdalena Solich-Talanda would swim 243m (797ft).

2015 - Takes 3rd and wins a car at the Fazza Freediving Championships

But in March 2015, Natalia participated in the Fazza Freediving Championships, an annual private competition arranged in Dubai. There, women and men compete together to hold their breath while holding onto a rope at depth. They can only wear a swimsuit - wetsuits, masks, and nose clips are forbidden. They also don’t have a coach or safety to let them know how long they’ve been holding their breath. Nevertheless, Natalia won the bronze medal and a Nissan Patrol with her breath-hold of 7 minutes and 38 seconds.

To date, Natalia is the only woman who made it to the podium at this annual competition.

2015 - Final pool World Championship

Natalia’s final Individual AIDA Pool World Championships was held in Belgrade, Serbia, in June 2015. It was also the only pool World Championship where she didn’t win all 3 gold medals. She received gold for her 236m (774ft) DYN swim, which was just 1m (3ft) short of her own world record. She also received gold for her STA performance of 8 minutes and 38 seconds. Unfortunately, she blacked out during her DNF dive.

2015 - Natalia disappears

August 2nd, 2015, would become one of the darkest days in freediving history. The news broke out that Natalia Molchanova was reported missing while giving private lessons near Formentera, Spain. She was never found.

That same year, in honor of Natalia, AIDA created the Natalia Molchanova Award for the best male and female athlete of each World Championship. And in 2020, the full-length feature film One Breath was released. It was created as a loving tribute to the inspirational life of Natalia Molchanova, both above and below the water.

Natalia’s legacies

Although Natalia's life was cut tragically short, she left behind profound legacies in the freediving world.

One of them was her son, Alexey, a freediving champion and entrepreneur. He keeps his mother's spirit alive through Molchanovs International and the Molchanova Freediving School. Another legacy of Natalia’s was her daughter, Oksana, who shares her mother’s love for freediving as a freediving instructor and judge. Natalia’s final grand contribution to the freediving world was two influential freediving organizations: the Freediving Federation and Molchanovs International, both of which continue to inspire future generations of freedivers.

At Molchanovs, we are proud to continue Natalia’s work in freediving education, community, and gear, ensuring her spirit lives on through these endeavors.

Watch her tribute video on Youtube here.



此站点受 reCAPTCHA 保护,并且 Google 隐私政策服务条款适用。