After six spectacular stops so far, the 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is already destined to go down in history. Two perfect dives, new record-high scores and the most 10s ever seen in a single season are proof that the sport has leaped to another level this year. And now, at the grand finale in Bilbao, Australia's Rhiannan Iffland has the chance to complete the story of perfection by becoming the first diver ever to win every stop.
When the 11th season kicked off in the Philippines back in April, not many could have imagined such an explosion in quality and consistency. But the signs were there as Mexico's Jonathan Paredes earned the first 10 of the year from the judges, Iffland and Brit Gary Hunt began their title defence in typically strong style, and a relatively inexperienced Romanian, Constantin Popovici, caught the eye with some sparkling dives and a second-place finish.
What followed can only be described as a bombardment of stunning aerial precision and piercing water entries; platter after platter of first-class cliff diving, served up for the most part by the main protagonists - Hunt, Popovici and Iffland. While the Aussie has reeled off win after win in the women's, the two outstanding men entered the record books for their 'perfect 10' dives in consecutive stops.
"The popularity of the sport has never been so high, and we're seeing more athletes coming directly from diving," says Hunt about the increase in quality. "In the past you would maybe see a diver have 5 or 6 years' break between ending their 10m career and making the transition to cliff diving. Now we're seeing people like Constantin and Oleksiy transitioning without skipping a beat.
"The divers are so much stronger than they were 10 years ago. For me personally, I need to be pushed, and I'm at my best when people are nipping at my heels."
A record-breaking season in numbers:
- Highest score for a required dive: 82.60 (Jonathan Paredes, Azores)
- Highest scoring dives: 156.00 (Gary Hunt, Beirut)
- Most 10s in a competition for a single diver: 7 (Gary Hunt, Beirut)
- Most 10s for a single dive: 5 (Gary Hunt, Beirut & Constantin Popovici, Mostar)
- Highest score for a required dive: 74.10 (Adriana Jimenez, Beirut)
- Highest scoring dives: 122.55 (Rhiannan Iffland, Beirut)
- Highest scoring competition: 358.05 (Rhiannan Iffland, Beirut)
- Most 10s for a single dive: 4 (Rhiannan Iffland, Mostar)
- Most 10s in a competition: 13 (Mostar)
Of all the records this season, those two perfect dives from the men are currently the standout feats, but Iffland could top that this weekend as she attempts to become the first diver in the history of this sport to win each and every stop. She is currently six for six in 2019, and having already wrapped up her 4th title at the last stop in Mostar, the 28-year-old is now fully focused on achieving perfection in Spain.
"It's going to be all guns blazing this weekend until that final dive," says Iffland. "It's a big achievement, and if I can manage to pull it off I think it's going to be equally as rewarding as winning the World Series."
With the titles already decided, the focus also turns to qualification for the 2020 season, as the chasing pack target their own perfect ending by securing a permanent spot for next year. Through the world ranking, which takes into consideration the FINA World Cup and World Championships as well as the World Series competitions, the top eight performers will secure a spot for next season.
"It will be a dream come true if I make it to be a permanent diver next year," says Germany's Iris Schmidbauer, one of three female wildcards with a strong chance of qualifying. "I've been working really hard to improve, and hopefully it will happen for me this year."
Finally, with the legend Orlando Duque calling time on his illustrious career in Bilbao, what are the odds of a final farewell wave from the podium? Now that would be a perfect finish indeed.
The divers are all set for one final battle, and by the end of competition on Saturday, a season which began in the perfect emerald lagoons of Southeast Asia could very possibly go down in history as the year of cliff diving perfection.
Watch Live from Bilbao
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