Fear, redemption and momentum will be the guiding forces for Gary Hunt (GBR) as he steps onto the 28-m platform at the first of nine stops in the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Texas will provide a spectacular backdrop for the sport's new era, as for the first time every event is broadcast live on Red Bull TV and by stations around the world. Thousands of spectators will watch from floating platforms at Hell's Gate in Possum Kingdom Lake, as the world's most daring divers leap from one of two towering cliffs, which rise dramatically from the water. It will be here that Texas native and two-time women's champion Rachelle "Rocco" Simpson begins her title defence, while Hunt bids to extend the dominance that has brought him overall victory in five of the last six seasons.
Overcoming fear is part of the job description for all the men and women who reach speeds of up to 85 km/h in the three seconds it takes to hit the water. For Hunt, the sensation is even more acute, as the 31-year-old Briton admits to a fear of heights in everyday life away from water.
"Our sport is a real test of your nerve," Hunt says. "You have to be mentally strong or you won't even get on the end of the platform. And you know you have to be 100 percent focused on your dive or you can end up in hospital.
"The moments before the dive are definitely the scariest and everyone has doubts when they're up there. If you're learning something new there are even more doubts in your mind. You don't have a reference point of how it's going to feel, so you have to rely on your training and take that leap of faith.
"Normally, I am a little bit scared of heights when there's not water underneath. Because I'm so used to judging height and seeing how many somersaults and twists I can do from that height, I can't help but imagine how it would feel to somersault and jump off. So where there's no water underneath, it scares the life out of me."
Whatever anxiety he may experience on or off the platform, Hunt is motivated by the sting he still feels from two high-profile defeats in 2013, when he not only lost the World Series title but also finished second to Orlando Duque in the FINA World Championships.
For 2016, he also wants to regain his status as performer of the dive with the highest degree of difficulty. That is where momentum comes in – along with a whole new element of risk.
"For many years I had the two most difficult dives in the world but I lost that title last year to Blake Aldridge, who now does a reverse double with five twists. I'm hoping to get that title back this year so I'm introducing a front triple with four-and-a-half twists."
"To fit in one more twist I've had to introduce a running take-off last year and I'm starting to get more and more comfortable but I'm still a little bit nervous about that. It's just a lot of dive. If I get a bad take-off it's going to be very difficult to enter the dive. It just makes it more and more important to get that perfect take-off."
The competition in Texas marks the season start for 14 men and 8 women of 10 nationalities, including wildcard invitations.
The biggest season ever will kick-off at Possum Kingdom Lake on June 4. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.
American hopefuls David Colturi, Steven LoBue, Andy Jones and invitee Kyle Mitrione return to fight for a victory in their home country. Colturi looks to build on his 2015 campaign, which saw him finish fifth overall in the series standings, while LoBue and Jones will seek to overhaul Hunt, who won in Texas last year.
Women's champion Rachelle Simpson, who hails from San Antonio, returns to Hell's Gate as reigning champion from the 20m platform and leads a four-athlete strong national team.
Four-time Olympic gold medallist and the greatest diver of all time, Greg Louganis, will be part of the five-person international judging panel during the season opener at the infamous rock formation in the midpoint of the massive water reservoir created by damning the Brazos River.
Wildcards (men, women): Alessandro De Rose (ITA), Kris Kolanus (POL), Kyle Mitrione (USA), Miguel Garcia (COL); Rhiannan Iffland (AUS), Tara Hyer-Tira (USA).
This event will be LIVE on June 4 from 7.20 PM UTC on www.redbullcliffdiving.com and Red Bull TV. Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. Find out more at about.redbull.tv
If you miss the event or simply want to watch all the action again, the replay will be available on demand a few minutes after the event.
Note that the live webcast and replay is geo-blocked in the US due to an exclusive broadcast deal with FOX Sports. The event will air on FOX Sports 1 at 12pm (ET) on July 09.