England's Gary Hunt and Rhiannan Iffland of Australia were at their imperious best as they fought off the strong challenge of their rivals and completed their own personal comebacks to secure the title at the final stop of the 2018 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Polignano a Mare, Italy. While for Hunt it was a record seventh King Kahekili Trophy in this 10th anniversary season, Iffland can now lay claim to being the most successful female diver in the sport's history after making it a hat-trick of World Series championship wins in front of 70,000 passionate fans at the place where houses rise from the rocks.
America's Steven LoBue, who had led the men's standings for most of the season, finished runner-up at both this stop and in the overall standings, while Mexican Jonathan Paredes' third place on Italy's Adriatic coast also mirrors his final position. In the women's, Iffland's title rivals failed to find their very best form, with Mexico's Adriana Jimenez finishing fourth on the day to fall back to second place overall, while Canadian Lysanne Richard's second place secured her the final spot on the overall podium.
The 27-year-old Australian triple champion had sent out a message already on day one of the competition as she surged into the lead with a sensational second round showing, which earned Iffland the highest ever score for a single dive from the 21m platform. Eleven victories in 17 starts weren't enough for the cliff diving sensation, as she added the highest ever women's competition score to her list of records.
"I'm kind of lost of words," said Iffland. "It still hasn't sunk in yet, but I knew I had to do a consistently good competition. I knew I had to smash it really. That was all that was in my head. Go out on the platform and be yourself and do it how you know it.
"I think it was a smart move to put the most difficult dive yesterday, so I had more energy. But the crowd and the atmosphere here today was filling me with energy anyway, so either way I'm super stoked. I love this place, it's one of my favourite stops and it is very special to stand up on the platform and look out and see all these people passionate about this sport."
With two victories and a second place in five events, Jimenez repeated her runner-up finish from 2017. After coming back even stronger from a year off due to injury, Switzerland-winner Lysanne Richard from Canada completed the women's top three..
The showdown in the men's was just as thrilling with the 34-year-old Hunt emerging victorious for the 34th time in 72 competitions. The brilliant Brit, who has recently rediscovered the magic that led him to six titles by winning the last three stops, was tied with title contender LoBue after two rounds; The record man held his nerves to pull out two high scoring optional dives from 27m and edge out his rivals.
"It feels kind of strange," said Hunt. "I forbid myself to imagine this moment. After what happened last year I said just take it as it comes, if it comes, and so to live this moment now I'm so, so happy. This season has really reminded me how much I love the sport.
"This is absolutely my most special season win. It's just the road I went on this winter, it was a really tough one and made me question myself why I'm doing this and do I want to do this. A few tough results at the start. I learned a lot about myself this year and for that reason it's very special."
Missing out on his third round dive, title defender Paredes finished his eighth year on the World Series in third place while FINA high diving world champion LoBue claimed second place overall - his personal best World Series result to date.
Spotlighting cliff diving's best, the last event of the season also decided on who made the cut for automatic qualification for 2019. In the men's, it's the top four of the 2018 World Series ranking plus David Colturi for whom the injury policy applies, while the top four women secured their spot for the next year.
To complete the permanent 2019 line up, one slot for men and women will be decided after the FINA World Cup in November, and the remaining spots – four in the men's, one in the women's – will be assigned according to the 2018 World Ranking System.
Seven tough and testing competitions to outperform the finest cliff divers – the fight for glory in the World Series' tenth season was arguably the closest to date. The sport that combines acrobatic free falls from up to 27m and speeds in excess of 85km/h returned to its most classic locations to commemorate this special year and produce the jubilee champions during seven stops for the men and five for the women.
Polignano a Mare results:
1- Gary Hunt GBR – 418.65pts
2- Steven LoBue USA – 406.056
3- Jonathan Paredes MEX – 391.35
4- Michal Navratil CZE – 385.40
5- Constantin Popovici (W) ROU – 375.20
6- Andy Jones USA – 374.75
7- Alessandro De Rose ITA – 365.65
8- Kris Kolanus POL – 360.35
9- Blake Aldridge GBR – 354.10
10- Sergio Guzman (W) MEX – 350.45
1- Rhiannan Iffland AUS – 342.25pts
2- Lysanne Richard CAN – 294.35
3- Yana Nestsiarava BLR – 286.90
4- Adriana Jimenez MEX – 276.55
5- Jessica Macaulay (W) GBR – 268.70
6- Jacquline Valente (W) BRA – 247.75
7- Ginger Huber USA – 242.90
8- Xantheia Pennisi (W) AUS – 242.10
9- Antonina Vyshyvanova (W) UKR – 240.80
10- Maria Paula Quintero (W) COL – 229.60
MEN (after 7 of 7 stops)
1- Gary Hunt GBR – 1010pts
2- Steven LoBue USA – 950
3- Jonathan Paredes MEX – 790
4- Michal Navratil CZE – 680
5- Andy Jones USA – 570
6- Kris Kolanus POL – 520
7- Blake Aldridge GBR – 448
8- Alessandro De Rose ITA - 409
9- David Colturi USA - 330
10- Sergio Guzman (W) MEX – 300
WOMEN (after 5 of 5 stops)
1- Rhiannan Iffland AUS – 830pts
2- Adriana Jimenez MEX – 760
3- Lysanne Richard CAN – 690
4- Jessica Macaulay (W) GBR – 600
5- Yana Nestsiarava BLR – 510
6- Ginger Huber USA – 320
7- Anna Bader GER – 220
8- Antonina Vyshyvanova (W) UKR – 160
9- Jacqueline Valente (W) BRA – 150
10- Xantheia Pennisi (W) AUS – 110
Watch the Polignano a Mare Replay
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