Mexico's Jonathan Paredes and Rhiannan Iffland of Australia grabbed an early lead in Azores, Portugal, after a forecast of bad weather for Friday forced a schedule change at the fourth stop of the 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Despite the unexpected challenge of completing their first round on Thursday, a day usually reserved for training and getting acquainted with the volcanic rocks of this Atlantic archipelago, the 24 men and women showed no hesitation as they leaped directly from the 'snakehead' spot into the open ocean waters below.
Paredes, the 2017 World Series champion, cruised into the lead with a record-breaking score for a required dive - 82.60pts - topping the bar he himself previously set in El Nido courtesy of three tens from the judges.
"Today was perfect," said a delighted Paredes. "I'm always super-scared when I'm up there, but from the cliff I've always had good results, so maybe that fear is what helps me make a good dive. I've spent the last two weeks trying to forget that last dive from Polignano a Mare, and breaking this record today gives me confidence.
"I was actually planning not to train today because my lower back has been bothering me. But as soon as we were told we had to dive, my mind was ready and I wanted to do my best.
Iffland also earned a 10 as she equalled her own record for a women's required dive - 71.50pts - set in this very spot last season, and in doing so the three-time champion edged closer to adding another record to her handsome collection. If she tops the podium again this weekend it will be the first time a female diver has won four stops in a row in one season.
"I stepped off the plane at almost midnight last night, and found out that we were competing today," said Iffland. "But when I leave to come to the competitions I'm prepared to dive, whether it's going to be the first day, the second day or the third. In my mind I was coming here to do training dives anyway and it was easy to prepare mentally for the competition.
"I love it here in the Azores, and I always seem to dive well. It's strange because I was speaking with Todor (Iffland's partner and coach) this morning and he told me to go for that same score. And look, I did it again!"
With a bleak weather outlook for Friday in this mid-Atlantic location, known for good reason as 'Europe's weather lab', the athletes will be glad to have gotten one round under their belt. The sports committee will decide on Friday morning if another round can be completed, or if all three remaining dives will take place on Saturday, when sunnier and calmer conditions are set to bathe the 'Princess Ring' for the final rounds.
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