The 2018 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series reaches its business end in Mostar this weekend, and the stress of three competitions in five weeks is clearly beginning to take its toll. Aches, pains, tiredness and several serious injury scares have hit this crop of elite cliff divers, and the pressure is on for those still in the mix to stay fit both physically and mentally as this dramatic season comes down to its final throws.
"Bosnia is already the 6th stop of the year," says Mexico's Jonathan Paredes. "We've been traveling and competing a lot for the last three months and it's been very tough. Our bodies cannot handle any more."
If that sounds like an overreaction, then consider this: these athletes repeatedly launch themselves from platforms up to 27m high into twisting, somersaulting, gravity-defying dives at speeds in excess of 85km/h, hitting the water with an impact of up to 10G physical force. For the fans it's a truly awesome spectacle, but for the divers it's a constant battle to keep themselves in prime condition for such demanding and daring feats.
Three permanent divers have already fallen victim to injury over the past few weeks. American David Colturi and Germany's Anna Bader are out of action for the rest of the season, while Colombia's Orlando Duque is battling to return in time for the season finale in Italy.
"I had a good preparation during the off-season in Mexico," says Paredes, who is attempting to defend the World Series title for the first time this season. "But right now I need to take a lot of care of my body. I don't go to the platforms too often; I need to rest and just focus on what I have to do. If I go for training, I just do quality training. I cannot mess it up. Going there and doing a bad dive, it doesn't take me anywhere. I have to make sure that the dive I'm going to try is good quality."
A solid pre-season and quality training are clearly crucial to keeping the injuries at bay. But at 29, Paredes is in his prime, and the reigning champion doesn't yet have to face the physical issues that come with advancing age. What about those athletes who are approaching their mid to late thirties. How do they handle the demands?
"I came on the series and I was one of the youngsters, but now I'm one of the oldest," says 36-year-old Brit Blake Aldridge. "Obviously, the older you get the impact on the body – your body is not designed to take this impact. I take care of myself just trying to be smart. Eat well, sleep well, stretch well.
"I know that my body can't go up there and do the amount of dives some of the younger guys do, but luckily enough I've been in the Series long enough now that I have the mental strength to go up there and compete even if I haven't practiced the dive.
"A lot of people get injured. It's becoming tougher and tougher, the dives are getting harder and harder, competitiveness is getting better; so it all makes for a great Series and a lot of excitement and drama. But it's getting hard."
One athlete who knows all about having to cope with a serious injury is female diver Lysanne Richard. The Canadian was sidelined for the whole of 2017 with a neck injury, but has bounced back impressively this season.
"Right now I feel really good," says Richard. "I have good people around me who helped me. I take good care of myself; eating well, sleeping well, have good treatments and that helps. It's true, it's really hard on the body. We take care of things step by step and don't let the injury happen, I think that's the secret for me – have regular treatments."
It seems that the regime is paying off for the 37-year-old mum of three. While many of her rivals are struggling with niggling injuries brought on by repetetive competition, Richard is going from strength to strength in her comeback season: "I still keep improving throughout the season. I feel like I'm a better diver today than I was in Switzerland."
In addition to their own methods the divers also have an ace card to call upon, in the form of Angela Passenbrunner, the physiotherapist who travels with them at every stop.
"Angy is very important for us," says Paredes. "She is the one who makes us walk at every competition. She's helping with the tensions on my lower back and legs, and I'm very happy to have her on my side."
Cliff diving is a demanding sport played out over the course of four competition-packed months, and each diver has their own way of coping with the inevitable stresses. But it's clear that solid pre-season preparation, good sleep and diet, along with quality training and mental strength, are all key to a successful and injury-free season. In this business it's all about dive, eat, sleep, repeat.
Watch Red Bull Cliff Diving Mostar Live
This event will be LIVE on September 8 at 1:15 PM CEST (11:15 AM GMT) on www.redbullcliffdiving.com, Red Bull TV, Facebook, & Youtube. 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.
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