With five different winners in the men's and three in the women's over the course of six events, and both title fights going right down to the final weekend, there is no doubt that 2017 was the most competitive season in the history of Red Bull Cliff Diving. If those simple facts aren't enough to prove that the depth of quality in this sport is growing, then further proof can be found in the performances of last season's wildcards, three of whom earned themselves a permanent place for the upcoming season. Here's a little reminder of who made the leap into the 2018 line-up, and how they did it.
Alessandro De Rose (Italy)
The only Italian diver competing in the World Series, Alessandro De Rose, has been making wildcard appearances since 2013. The 25-year-old's previous best overall finish was 11th in 2016, helped by a personal best fourth place on home soil in Polignano a Mare. But in 2017, a stunning victory at the same location in front of his passionate fans catapulted De Rose to cliff diving stardom and kick-started a superb run of form that eventually landed him in fourth place overall, missing out on the top three by just 50 points. Not only that, but he also grabbed the bronze medal at the FINA High Diving World Championships.
From inconsistent wildcard to one of cliff diving's most exciting and skilled competitors in the space of a season; it was a barely believable leap of form for the man from Trieste, aided no doubt by his memorable diving tour of Italy in the run-up to that Polignano a Mare victory. In 2018, fans can expect to see his spectacular dives and contagious smile gracing all seven World Series stops.
Anna Bader (Germany)
When Anna Bader took a year out of the sport in 2016 to have her first baby, the natural concern for cliff diving fans was that it could be the last they ever saw of her on the women's 21m platform. Even for a skilled athlete, who finished the 2014 and 2015 seasons in second and fourth place overall, the stresses of childbirth and pressure of motherhood might understandably have been too much to combine with a return to such a physically demanding and highly competitive sport like this.
But any doubts about the 34-year-old's ability or desire were wiped away the moment she completed her first competitive dive in the Portuguese Azores. Bader marked her return to action with a stunning third place finish, then followed that up with two more podiums before the season was out. It was a remarkable comeback, and one that has earned her the right to dive at all women's stops in 2018.
Yana Nestsiarava (Belarus)
In the fifth year of women competing in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Yana Nestsiarava is the first Belarusian to have secured a permanent ticket. Earning this status was everything but easy for the 25-year-old, considering a very unpleasant kidney infection she suffered from after her strong start in Ireland. Most of her appearances in the aftermath were accompanied by steady lower back pain, which naturally is nothing one wants to deal with when it is about hitting the water at up to 85 km/h.
The Minsk-based diver certainly proved that she is a tough one. After a bronze medal at the 2017 FINA High Diving World Championships in Budapest, as well as two second placed finishes during 2017, Nestsiarava will once again get the chance to leave her mark this season.
Following the intense drama of last year, 2018 is expected to be another highly competitive and exciting season, and no doubt these three divers will be doing everything they can not only to hold onto their permanent status, but also to challenge at the very top.