The man who for many personifies cliff diving bid farewell from competition during the season finale of the 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Bilbao, Spain in September. After 20 years in the game, shaping the breath-taking discipline of diving from dizzying heights into a highly recognised sport and filling the record books with perfect dives, world titles and unparalleled achievements, Orlando Duque leaves the competitive 27m stage. Not without passing on his heritage and not without big plans for him as well as the sport.
"Cliff diving is my profession, a calling that will be the centre of my life after my active career is over. I once interrupted my university career because of diving, which I then let slide. This shows how important the sport is to me, emotionally as well," explains 45-year-old Duque, "It will never release its hold over me."
What sounds like an emotional career-end statement is much more than that. It's a commitment, a promise for the future and a certificate of guarantee – this man stands true to his words.
Since the day he left his mother and Colombia in a quest to earn a living more than 20 years ago, the world famous ponytail has travelled the world as cliff diving ambassador, dived from the world's largest waterfall, in front of the Statue of Liberty and off an iceberg in Antarctica. In a career he'd never imagined to happen, he received all 10s from the judges for his immaculate diving performances, earned the first-ever aquatic world championship medal for his country as well as 13 world titles between 1999 and 2019.
The icon. The legend. The pioneer. In the past 20 years 'the Duke' has earned many titles and names. Not just because of his unmatched success in the sport, but also for his style to overcome career-threatening injuries and setbacks. The boy who always went straight ahead in a drug troubled Cali in the 1980s, never went off track in his sportive career to influence and inspire a whole generation of cliff divers.
"He played such a positive role in this sport. Basically he created this sport," says the sport's female dominator from down under, Rhiannan Iffland, who is already looking forward to a joint cliff diving adventure with the legend later this year.
"I've been in his shadow for a long time and I'll always be there, because he was there right from the start," acknowledges 8-time World Series champion Gary Hunt from Great Britain, who competed in more than 80 events alongside the legendary Colombian.
The 45-year-old didn't leave the 27m stage without passing on his heritage: His mentee, 19-year-old Maria Paula Quintero will represent Colombia in the 2020 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series after securing a spot in the permanent divers' line-up.
Also, he's got personal plans for the time after his final dive: "I won't give up my sport just because I'm stepping back from active competition. Cliff diving has so many different facets that I have neglected in recent years. The adventure part. The travel. New discoveries. I hope I finally have time for this."
Besides the adventurous approach towards cliff diving, Duque has a clear goal set for the future of his chosen sport. "I'm in the athletes committee of the international federation FINA, I'm in the high diving committee, so I'll be pushing every step to make sure this sport makes it to the Olympics," reveals the Colombian, who was qualified for the 1992 Games but never got to represent his country due to shortcomings of the national federation. "I think that is not only my goal, but all the divers are aiming for that; everybody is being a lot more professional in terms of reaching that goal."
Next to his work for the international governing body of aquatic sports, Orlando Duque will continue to shape and push the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Podcast: Orlando's World of Diving
Listen to the first episodes of 'Orlando's World of Diving', where the legendary cliff diver shares his stories, talks about his life and career and has special guests with him in the studio.
Book: High Diver. My Life on the Edge
The most outstanding cliff diver in the world looks back on his childhood growing up in Cali, Colombia and takes us on an adventurous journey around the world: from leaping as a burning torch at an adventure park to the heights of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, 27 metres above the water – a feat that leaves no room for error.
Illustrated book, available in English, German and Spanish.