Photo: Wikipedia

The woman widely recognised as the world's best freediver is feared dead after she failed to surface following a dive in the Mediterranean.

Natalia Molchanova held 41 world records and over the course of her career had won 20 individual golds and two team medals at the Freediving World Championships, making the Russian the most decorated individual in the history of the sport - male or female.

"She could hold her breath for more than 9 minutes, could dive to a depth of 101 metres and swim 234 metres underwater"

On 2nd August, she was diving for fun off Formentera, a Spanish island near Ibiza, when she failed to surface. Search parties have yet to find her body but it is presumed that the 53-year-old died during the dive.

Although she took up freediving - which involves swimming to incredible depths without the assistance of a scuba tank - later in life, Molchanova had loved sports since a young age. She competed as a swimmer until the age of 20 when she took a break to have children.

Her son Alexey followed in her footsteps and also became a professional freediver. He was among the party with Natalia when she made the fateful dive.

Natalia with her son Alexey after both won medals at the freediving world championships in Maribor, Slovenia in 2007. Photo: Wikipedia

At her best Natalia could hold her breath for more than 9 minutes, could dive to a depth of 101 metres and swim 234 metres underwater.

Will Trubridge, a diver with 15 world-records to his name told the New York Times:"The world has lost its greatest freediver. I don't think anybody would dispute that."

Our thoughts are with Alexey Molchanova and the rest of Natalia's friends and family.