A return to the Portuguese Azores threw up a few shocks on day one, as reigning champions Gary Hunt and Rhiannan Iffland suffered major struggles on the volcanic rocks in the mid-Atlantic, their first two dives landing them both in last position in the standings. In contrast to Jonathan Paredes and Helena Merten, who both displayed some dazzling form from the bare cliffs to grab a lead, Hunt and Iffland will have some serious work to do when the action moves to the more familiar platforms on Sunday.
Much of the build up to this event has been about the importance of adapting to the unusual terrain that such a location presents, and how the athletes prepare for the completely different sensation of steadying their feet on uneven rocks to pull off their complex and acrobatic dives. But whereas England's Hunt and Australian Iffland dealt with everything nature had to throw at them to take victory at the season opener in Ireland, it was the natural setting here that proved difficult for them, although both are also nursing injuries that certainly played a part.
"I made a tactical error today," explained a heavily strapped Hunt. "I decided not to train through fear of pain from the impact, but stuck with the plan of going for a quad half from the snakehead instead of an easier dive, and I paid the price. I didn't come out at the right moment and there was a moment of panic when I expected to see the rocks but instead saw the sky. Thankfully I managed to find my way to the water and enter pain-free. My second dive was ok, but now I'm in a position where I need to go all out for near-perfect scores tomorrow."
Iffland, who won here in her debut season last year, was disappointed with her first dive but expressed hope for the final rounds: "I came in with a little bit of an injury and wasn't able to train," said the 25-year-old. "The first dive didn't go so well for me, but the second I really enjoyed. Tomorrow I've got two fast, safe dives and fingers crossed I can do them strong."
With the favourites underperforming, the chasing pack now have a great opportunity to step up their challenge and grab a vital win in the fight for the title, and under the blazing sun at the Portuguese archipelago it was Mexico's Jonathan Paredes and Helena Merten who shone brightest from the stunning cliffs.
"It seems like every time I dive from the cliffs, it goes better than I was expecting the day before," said Paredes. "Tomorrow is a new day, and back to the platforms. I'm doing my new dive again, and I hope this time it works." The Mexican led after three rounds two weeks ago in Ireland but failed to hit his new dive, a forward 4 somersaults 1 1/2 twist, and dropped back to sixth.
Merten is chasing a first World Series victory in only her second season, and despite her delight at being in the lead she's well aware of the task ahead: "I feel great, and being in first place I couldn't be happier," said the 22-year-old. "But there's still a long way to go. It's good to be in front, but these girls are amazing and anything can happen."
Joining the men's charge are Colombian Orlando Duque and Brit Blake Aldridge, who sit second and third respectively, while in the women's it's Americans Ginger Huber and Tara Hyer-Tira who occupy joint-second place.
On Sunday the action will move from the natural rocks to the man-made platforms, where the athletes will show off their more difficult and complex dives in a bid to grab victory.
Standings after the first Rounds:
MEN (after 2 of 4 rounds)
1 - Jonathan Paredes (MEX) – 159.00pts.
2 - Orlando Duque (COL) – 153.30
3 - Blake Aldridge (GBR) – 151.60
4 - Kris Kolanus (POL) – 145.40
5 – Miguel Garcia (W) (COL) – 140.20
6 – Kyle Mitrione (W) (USA) – 140.00
7 – David Colturi (USA) – 138.80
8 – Steven LoBue (USA) – 132.60
9 – Michal Navratil (CZE) – 130.80
10 – Sergio Guzman (MEX) – 126.50
11 – Artem Silchenko (W) (RUS) – 121.85
12 – Andy Jones (USA) - 114.80
13 – Todor Spasov (W) (BUL) - 105.30
14 – Gary Hunt (GBR) – 96.80
WOMEN (after 2 of 4 rounds)
1 – Helena Merten (AUS) – 120.90pts.
2 – Ginger Huber (USA) – 115.70
3 – Tara Hyer-Tira (W) (USA) – 115.70
4 – Anna Bader (W) (GER) – 114.40
5 – Adriana Jimenez (MEX) – 107.90
6 – Cesilie Carlton (USA) – 106.60
7 – Jessica Macaulay (W) (GBR) – 101.40
8 – Rhiannan Iffland (AUS) – 97.50
Watch it Live
This event will be LIVE on July 09 from 12.30 local time (12.30 GMT) on www.redbullcliffdiving.com, Red Bull TV and Facebook. Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. Find out more at about.redbull.tv
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.