Bill Stromberg (current president of Aida international) has been into competetive freediving from the very start. He has dominated swedish freediving for many years. This is an account of his glorious career and my own ambitious undertakings to beat him.
The first swedish CWT record was set by a guy called Dolor Soderbom who had learnt his freediving mostly from Jaques Mayols son (partly residing in Sweden). Bill was there as a safetydiver when Dolor collected the first tag ever in swedish waters - 33 meters (1996). Rumour has it that while the local TV-station was interviewing Dolor on his great achievement, Bill stayed at the line and dove down passed the 33 meter mark.
"Howdy boss" (tjenare kungen), that is how Bill greets me the first time he sees me. I have just entered the first freediving competition in Sweden (year 2000). We had found a dark and deep lake in the middle of the country. Without wasting time on introducing himself Bill directly questions me on my personal bests.
The first swedish championship becomes a display of Blackouts. The line seems to be 2 meters too long. Bill dives down to 48 meters and sets a new swedish record - I find myself diving the shallowest depth (15 meters) and after that I blackout in Static. I finish last - Bill wins the whole competition.
Writer to the left - Bill to the right
From 1998 and then on Bill kept the initiative, always coming back and keeping different people away from his swedish records. He has a way of sensing that someone is training for a specific record and is always ready to take it back. If you wonder how someone is doing in training - just ask Bill.
I mostly dive to make myself proud - but soon I realized one swedish record was within my reach. Maybe others could be proud of me aswell. A national record was something I never in my life thought I would be close to. I just had to beat Bills 90 meter in DNF, which was possible since I could do over 85 on any training. I took a shot at it back in 2003 but due to illness (I should have stayed out of water) I had a blackout. I was now widely known as "Samba-Sebbe" in Sweden.
Bill sensed the danger and quickly moved the record up to 93 an on to 100 meters, out of my reach for the time being. He did this in a competition where he aswell moved the swedish static record up to 6.42. A great achievement - two records in one competition!
Up to this last year Bill has been able to fight people of in most disciplines. In the begining he had some trouble getting hold of the prestigious Static record (placed at 6.20 by T.Schiffer as early as 1998). A heavy LMC in front of a bewildered audience at a dive fair, was one of his major setbacks. But in 2001 he took control of the static record with a breathhold time of 6.30. He lost it briefly to teammate during the Hawaii World cup (6.34), but half an hour later he added another two seconds to the record and was back on top. "Evil tongues" has said that Bill gets his power from others achievements - he only trains to regain his records. There are many talented freedivers in Sweden but I believe that Bill is the one that WANTS to win the most. In one of the early Nice competitions (2000?) he blow his eardrums and yet got the tag and the dive approved. Willpower and focus.
He has been a swedish champion in swimming but turned his aim towards freediving records - far more accessible. Over the years he has broken a swedish record in freediving 21 times - And I can not recall having seen Bill having one single LMC, he has always compeeted well within his limits.
Alright - how could I get my hands on a freediving record? FREE had started doing records in the CNF discipline and I decided to be the first to set a record in this discipline (unofficial). Bill told me he had done 39 in training - so I set the line to 40 meters! And with not a single oxygen molecule left in my lungs - I succeeded. Oh pride and joy -I had found a discipline I liked.
This tactic of going for untried disciplines seemed my only way to "fame and glory" and in 2003, in Dahab, I added a few meters to the CNF record (44 meters) and set the first swedish FIM record to 65 meters. The FIM was something greater than a national record, it was a perfect dive to the limit of my abilities. So fullfilling. Well this should keep even Bill away for some time I thought.
Wrong. Six months later in Dahab 2004 we did records side by side. He did a 68 meter FIM (his ears barely making it as I recall), I did 68 too but was DQ for a late start. After that he quickly shut me up with doing a fairly easy CNF 50 meters in the Blue hole (I went for 48 but turned at 46). I pointed out his airways under the surface but I seemed to be the only one troubled by that. Anyhow - he claimed to had done 60 in training so I was lost anyway.
This is a peculiour thing with Bill. Whatever the record - he has always done a few meters more in training. When the swedish team all did CWT 62 meters in the Ibiza world championship - Bill did 64 in training. But his teamates got pissed of that he failed to mention his extra pulls.
I learned this from Bill, why not dive as deep as you can and then use the line to pull yourself if in doubt on making it to the surface - you learn more this way.
I followed the swedish team to Hawaii (as a documenter/journalist) - there Bill coached me to a PB in static. A clean 6.42. His method mainly consisting of a lot of ventilation. I also borrowed his fancy new monofin (SEBAK-now Leaderfins). With this I made it to 63 (and a few pulls on the way up).
In Hawaii Bill showed another talent - the administrative/political Bill. He succesfully protested a hand violation and secured a silver medal for the swedish team. Bill has always known the rules and how to use them. In our mutual record attempts, in the Blue Hole, the swedish board did not accept our two judges (they where quick-educated by Bill a few days prior to the attempt). By now Bill had got voted into the Aida-international-board and been "awarded" with; a Freediver A level, Trainer A level and Judge A level. He could freely appoint judges and trainerlevels.
Instead of recordattempts under Aidasweden - Bill got AidaIsrael to host a comp (we just had to ask one guy - Erez Beatus). Only one israeli in the comp though - the phony names never showed up. I was a bit bewildered aswell as happy to be able to compeete. This was all according to rules Bill confirmed with Nagel (president of Aida at the time being). After this the swedish board made a swedish addition to the rules; "comps has to be announced two months in advance".
Well, again I found myself with lovely dives and personal bests - but no records. Bill Now had: CNF, FIM, DYN, DNF, VWT and STA. (The NLT no one took seriously since is was only 65).
Was Bill happy? I dont know. He had just lost his 66 meter CWT to Mathias Lanner (71 meters Cyprus). Bill has had some limitations in equalizing over the years. He is a former elite swimmer and has the fitness and the oxygen uptake that is needed to be a top level freediver on the international arena, if it wasn`t... for the ears. Bill took part in the Red sea dive off - one of the first competitions ever. There he got himself famous for safetydiving and saving a competitor suffering deep SWB.
So Bill controlled nearly all the records in early 2004, but change was coming. Other swedish athletes were beginning to specailize in order to get to the records. Alhby was holding his breath like crazy in his bed, Asp and Gustavsson doing long dynamic rounds in the pool (well Gustavsson looks like he lives in a gym), Dahlstrom staying long periods in Nice focusing on CWT. Myself I had thrown my fins away and focusing mainly on no fins categories.
We where coming for him from all directions! And Bill saw some changes on the social level - he had found a girlfriend, moved to Italy, got a new job, worked hard on the Italian Aida board, the swedish aidaboard and the international aidaboard (at that time working on the SP). How could he possibly get time to train and hold all these people away from his records?
He couldn´t. Lanner moved the CWT further away from him up to 71 and later to 75 (Bill claimed to have done 76 in training). Dahlstrom moved it up to 84 in the last WC. Gustavsson and Asp berieved him of the DYN taking it from 134 to 142 and 150 in the last WC. Ahlby did a 6.48 breathhold coached by his wife, and his five children watching. In the swedish indoor championship Lanner took the lead and Bill had to perform a 140 something in DYN to win. He pushed himself to 150 and blacked out for the first time in a competition. And for the first time he had lost a swedish championship. The man that had controlled swedish freediving for more than half a decade had lost. He missed the swedish outdoor championship and for the first time someone else took the first price.
And I, on my part, had not been idle - I had fallen love with all discipilines without fins. I entered the latest swedish championship with the ambition to take three swedish records - quite ambitious since no swedish record had been set in local waters since about five years ago. I started of sucessfully with CNF 51 where I used a Murat inspired style (taking advantage of the cold) surprising not only myself coming up crisp clear. Then I went for the swedish STA (I had with new warm-up techniques done a clean 7 two weeks before). But here old "Samba-sebbe" showed his face and I lost control at 6.30. In DNF I felt strong (having done 100 in a 50 meter pool). I managed 103 meters with a LMC twich in my arm (saved by the new SP rule I got the record though), only to see, six minutes later, a clubmate (I foolishly :-) had been training the last semester) beating me with 5 meters (108meters). Bill now anounced publicly that his PB in training now was 125 meters (DNF).
But I had at last fullfilled one of my ambitions - to officially beat another persons record (not only setting a new record). And I had also beat the guy that left me on last place in my first competition.
Well so I thought - you see, beating Bill is not that simple. Bill (who at the time controlled the Aida_calender and the international ranking list and had written most of the rules it seems) claimed that the competition had not been registered as a DNF and CNF competition - therefore my achievements where not valid. I was responsible for the planning of the event and had only myself to blame one could argue. Later out of some reason the DNF part was approved in the calender - but not the CNF. I showed the e-mails where I months in advance had informed the swedish board of the plans to let people choose inbetween fins or no fins. I also showed the e-mail to the aida-calender that I sent five weeks before the comp where I asked the no fins categories to be respected in the ranking. Bill claimed (after the comp) that five weeks was to late to add competition data.
The swedish board awarded me the records. Since I am on the board I choose not to vote on the issue, but Bill saw no problems voting against the CNF 51 record (and in favor of his own). There are no rule against it, and an athlete is suppose to use the rules in their favor.
So I have learnt - that it takes more than a good dive to beat Bill.
Bill now has two records: FIM and a 58 meter VWT. In november I am going to try to take the FIM from him in a competition in Dahab. But I guess Bill already knows that. I am sure he wants to go deeper than 51 in the CNF competition.
Thank, you Bill, for inspiring me to come back and beat myself over and over.
The story came to a nice ending. In the Triple depth competition Bill and I finished, after three disciplines, on exactly the same points and on shared seventh place. Neither the FIM or the CNF record was broken. Bill did a sucessful recordattempt to 75 VWT.