Australia's Rhiannan Iffland retained her Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series title with another dominant victory in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina, reeling off a majestic final dive into the Neretva River to win it in style with one stop to spare. Gary Hunt also claimed his eighth King Kahekili Trophy on a dramatic afternoon at Stari Most; the Brit having to settle for second place on the day after Romania's Constantin Popovici wowed the crowd of 20,000 with a perfect dive to pick up five 10s from the judges.
The 30-year-old Olympic athlete from Bucharest pocketed five 10s for a single dive in a competition where the judges pulled the highest note 8 times in the men's. In only his first season as a permanent diver, Popovici had catapulted himself into contention for the King Kahekili trophy after a stunning start to the season saw him claim second place and a victory in his first two starts. His promising season had been put on hold for three months due to injury until Saturday when the second season success put him back into the fight for a permanent ticket for 2020.
"It's great to be back," said Popovici. "Almost three months for recovery, a lot of pain, a lot of hard work. But that all paid off today. My plan was to do four strong dives, which I did. Of course I had in mind to score a perfect 10, maybe not a perfect 10, but 9.5 and 10. I did one of these and that's good."
Forced into second place in Mostar, following a slow start which left him in tenth place before the final two rounds, record World Series champion Hunt successfully retained the title for the 8th time. The 35-year-old now travels to the north of Spain with the goal of securing a debut win in Bilbao. With Jonathan Paredes from Mexico completing the podium, the season's top podium finishers stepped it up from the historic old bridge moving into the final showdown next month.
"The goal in Bilbao will be to do four great dives and take first place, which I have never done there," said Hunt. "Constantin and I were 1-1 at the point when he hurt himself, so it felt like a real disappointment when he was out of the series. Now he's 2-1 up, so I've got work to do and I'm going to try and even the score back in Bilbao."
In the women's Eleanor Townsend Smart from the United States was the new face on the podium. In her first year as a permanent diver, the 23-year-old finished her 10th appearance in the World Series on second place, edging out Canada's Lysanne Richard in her comeback competition to 3rd position.
As the season comes down to the wire, Australia's record winner Iffland travels to Spain with an additional confidence boost to make it the perfect season, after she stunned the cliff diving elite by pulling off her final dive for four 10s from the jury. The day's best dive catapulted the 27-year-old not only to her fourth overall win in as many years, but she managed to put behind her the demons of Mostar and made it her first victory at the challenging Neretva River.
"I tried to come in here with a different mental attitude to the last few years," said Iffland. "The previous years it's been tough for me here, I've struggled with injuries and I haven't got the best track record, but my strategy was just to come in and dive like I've been diving for the rest of the season.
"It sounds pretty special – World Series champion. There is still one competition and I'm going to focus on that. I'll reward myself once I'm finished in Bilbao."
While the champions are decided, the quest for qualification for 2020 is in full force. When even the wildcards can still earn a spot in the top four from 21m and 27m, everything is wide open as the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series marches towards an exciting climax at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in three weeks' time.
Watch the Mostar Replay
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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.