Stunning scenery awaits the world's best cliff divers as they leap into the 11th season of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in El Nido; a first-time location on the calendar. The 24 athletes will face the challenge of an off-the-cliff competition right in the first event of the year, while at the same time they will be welcomed by dazzlingly clear emerald waters.
Whether the reigning champions Rhiannan Iffland (AUS) and Gary Hunt (GBR) will continue where they left off in 2018 and can find the right formula to defend the King Kahekili Trophy against the increased competition will soon be witnessed by turtles and kayakers around the limestone formations of the Small and Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island.
Acrobatic free-falls from up to 27m at speeds in excess of 85km/h ask for an enormous amount of confidence – an added challenge for even the best of the cliff diving elite in this early stage of the year. "In previous years it's been really tough, the first one, but I am much more confident in myself, in my dives now," explains 7-time overall champion Hunt. "That said, once I get up on those heights it's still a big challenge that first one."
While the most decorated diver of the World Series has learned to deal with the nerve-racking, leg shaking moments of the first 3-second flights, it will put the fresh faces in the permanent line-up such as Olympic bronze medal winner Oleksiy Prygorov from the Ukraine and Romania's talented Constantin Popovici to the test. Joining them in their quest for cliff diving glory will be well-known veterans: 2018 runner-up and FINA world champion Steven LoBue (USA) and 2017 champion Jonathan Paredes (MEX) amongst others, as well as cliff diving legend Orlando Duque (COL), who returns as a wildcard after an injury-plagued 2018 season.
On the women's platform 21m above deep water and coral, Australia's three-time champion could make it her 12th victory in 18 starts when the season swings into action for the 25th time in the Women's World Series. "Scoring consistently higher at each event is the one thing I want to focus on this year," states Iffland ahead of the highly anticipated debut in the Philippines.
With the 2018 overall podium finishers Adriana Jimenez (MEX) and Lysanne Richard (CAN) on her heels, there's no time to rest on her laurels, as both will have a good shot at the title during the 7-stop world tour. Extra zest is expected from the latest additions Eleanor Townsend Smart (USA) and Jessica Macaulay, the first female Brit in the World Series.
The kick-off into the World Series' 11th year features not only 16 permanent divers but also four wildcards in both the men's and women's divisions. These talents, as young as 20 years in the women's and 23 in the men's, guarantee to spice up the competition at a new location set in paradise.
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