Michal Navratil and women's newcomer Rhiannan Iffland were the surprise stars on the first day of competition at Hell's Gate, as reigning champions Gary Hunt and Rachelle Simpson failed to shine on a gloriously sunny afternoon in Texas.
Earlier doubts about the weather soon evaporated as the clouds cleared and action got underway in the first event of the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. After two wins each in the last two years at this location, all eyes were on Britain's Hunt and Simpson of the USA as they began their quest for a hat trick in front of a boisterous crowd which had gathered on boats, canoes and dinghies despite the earlier weather warnings.
But it was little known Australian Iffland, appearing as a wildcard in her first ever Red Bull Cliff Diving event, who stole the show with two stunning dives from 20m that rocketed her into first place heading into the final rounds on Saturday. Fellow Aussie Helena Merten, making her debut as a permament athlete, ensured that it was a one-two for the girls from Down Under thanks to her first dive, the highest scoring effort of the day in the women's event. American Cesilie Carlton was back in third, while Rachelle Simpson could only manage seventh place following two below average attempts.
Australia's Rhiannan Iffland on her way to a surprise lead on the first day of competition in Texas. Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool.
Over in the men's event it was Navratil, nicknamed Supratil, who wowed the crowds and more importantly the judges, with two almost perfect dives from the 27.5m platform. The Czech showman, famous for his 'Superman' dives at the end of competitions, shouted "I was flying" as he emerged from the water after his second dive. He certainly was flying, both physically and metaphorically, as he swooped immaculately into the cool waters of Possum Kingdom Lake. With Gary Hunt languishing in 11th place after a sluggish start to his season, Navratil may be quietly confident of soaring to his first ever victory in eight seasons on the tour. Although, as anyone who knows cliff diving is well aware, it would be unwise to rule out the 5-time champion, especially considering he has a couple of ace dives up his sleeves for the final rounds. Mexico's Jonathan Paredes produced his usual flawless flights to shoot into second place, while Italy's wildcard Alessandro De Rose rose above his more experienced rivals into third.
Michal Navratil swoops down beyond the branches of Hell's Gate and powers into the lead at the end of day one. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.
With the good weather expected to continue into Saturday, the scene is set for a thrilling climax in this opening event of the biggest and most challenging season ever.
View the full gallery from Friday here.
Michal Navratil (CZE) – 226.00
Jonathan Paredes (MEX) - 216.80
Alessandro De Rose (W) (ITA) - 214.20
Artem Silchenko (RUS) - 210.00
Steven LoBue (USA) - 203.50
Blake Aldridge (GBR) - 196.60
Andy Jones (USA) - 195.80
David Colturi (USA) - 192.10
Orlando Duque (COL) - 191.75
Miguel Garcia (W) (COL) - 191.30
Gary Hunt (GBR) - 187.10
Kris Kolanus (POL) (W) - 187.10
Kyle Mitrione (W) (USA) - 170.70
Sergio Guzman (MEX) - 126.10
Rhiannan Iffland (W) (Aus) - 150.80
Helena Merten (AUS) - 140.80
Cesilie Carlton (USA) 139.70
Ginger Huber (USA) - 138.05
Adriana Jimenez (MEX) - 136.50
Lysanne Richard (CAN) - 135.90
Rachelle Simpson (USA) - 121.80
Tara Hyer-Tira (W) (USA) - 100.60
WATCH IT LIVE
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 FS1 at 12pm (ET) on July 09.