Czech freediver will attempt to set world record in swimming under ice

David Vencl, photo: archive of David Vencl

David Vencl, a freediver from Teplice, will attempt to break the Guinness world record for the longest swim under ice this month. The current record stands at 76,2 meters, and Vencl says that he aims to swim 80, which comes to about 1 minute and 40 seconds underwater.

David Vencl will try to claim the Guinness world record in the Weissensee glacier lake in Austria by the end of February.  To have his attempt officially recognized, he will have to swim under ice that is 30 centimetres thick, which cannot be done in any lake in the Czech Republic. For safety, Vencl will swim attached to a rope and will be accompanied by divers with breathing equipment. Holes in the ice will also be cut along his route in case of an emergency, the athlete told reporters.

According to Vencl, who can swim 141 metres underwater and hold his breath for 8 minutes, it is not the distance, but the freezing water temperature that will present a real challenge. He has been training for the cold by walking around in shorts, plunging into a barrel of freezing water, and swimming with friends in Lake Barbora near his hometown of Teplice.

“We swim for 10 to 20 minutes in freezing water of about 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. Most importantly, I need to let my head adjust to the unpleasant sensation of the cold water. Having your head underwater is a completely different level, as anyone who has swum in ice water knows.”

David Vencl,  photo: Ľubomír Smatana / Czech Radio

Another challenge for Vencl will be to keep his body relaxed during the swim. This is crucial for oxygen retention but is made more difficult by the cold water as the body instinctively tightens up, causing a diver’s performance to decrease significantly.

“Training freediving is relatively OK –of course it feels unpleasant at the end of a dive. But when training for freezing water, one has to overcome unpleasant sensations from start to end. Say my regular training session in the pool lasts for 60 minutes, but training in freezing water only lasts for about 15 minutes. And I can only do it three times a week in order to give the body time to regenerate, because it is physically very taxing.”

The record for the longest swim under ice was first set at 57.5 metres by the famed Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof in 2000. The current record stands at 76,5 metres and is held by Stig Severinsen from Denmark. Asked what made him take on the challenge Vencl told Czech Radio:

“I don’t expect to be doing this all my life. If my under-ice swim is entered as a record somewhere that will, of course, be great and may open some doors for me. But I am mainly approaching it as a way to surpass myself and test my limits.”

David Vencl already received some attention for his under-ice swimming in 2019, when a photo of him swimming in Lake Milada won the sports category of the Czech Press Photo awards. He represents the Czech Republic in freediving, in which he has won the national title. He already holds several records, including the bizarre world record in having been able to keep his head submerged in a salad bowl for 4 minutes and 17 seconds.