“On this day in 1976, the freediver Jacques Mayol dove to a depth of 100 metres undersea without any breathing equipment. He was the first person on record to ever pull off the feat, and in doing so he defied physiologists who had claimed that his lungs would collapse.
The “”Dolphin Man,”” as he became known, was born in Shanghai to French parents in 1927. The lengthy sea voyages to and from France led to his great interest in the ocean. And despite his father’s death in a diving accident, he went on to become one of the greatest freedivers in the world.
Mayol’s training as a diver began as a young man when he worked with dolphins in a Miami, Florida-based aquarium. He swam regularly with the dolphins, especially one named Clown, and learned how to hold his breath for longer stretches on each dive.
He later met and befriended another great freediver named Enzo Maiorca, from Sicily. Maiorca and Mayol, more than anyone else, established freediving as a formal competitive sport. Maiorca was the first to reach 50 metres without oxygen in the 1960s, which Mayol bested shorty after with a dive of 60 metres. The friendly competition between the two became the basis for classic 1988 cult film directed by Luc Besson, Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue).
The famous dive in 1976 took place off the Italian island Elba. The record Mayol set of 100 metres became the new benchmark, and freediving as a sport made waves in the popular imagination. At the age of 56, Mayol beat his own record with a dive of 105 metres.
In 2001, Mayol committed suicide, dying at the age of 74. The sport he helped popularise has become more competitive than ever, and at the time of writing the world record is held by Herbert Nitsch, the so-called “”deepest man on Earth.”” In 2007, Nitsch dove to an astounding 214 metres.”
Credit: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Caption: Freediver Jacques Mayol poses in his preferred ecosystem.