As one of cliff diving's leading ambassadors, Anna Bader has seen the sport come a long way. "I remember I was in Italy, maybe 2008 or 2009, and I did an exhibition dive off the men's platform. Back then it was only 24 metres and I was the only woman there." Fast forward nearly a decade and she's delighted that the women's Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, now in it's fourth year, will be tackling one of the sport's iconic locations for the first time in June: "I think Inis Mór is the ultimate challenge. It's super exciting. I don't think we've ever had anything like this in the women's series. I think it might be a little bit rougher maybe than other spots but I think definitely that the girls are ready for it.
A Big Step Forward
For Anna, sharing the stage with the men in Ireland for the first time is an important step for the sport: 'This season is the first time we're competing at all of the same events as the guys and that's really, really cool. It's a big step, a really big step up. We've improved so much during the last couple of years in terms of the degree of difficulty, the number of somersaults, the number of twists. There's been so much progress. So I think we deserve to be in the same events as the men'. It's just the latest step for a young sport that's growing up fast, says Anna: 'When I first started competing at the European Championships I had to dive with the men. Now we have quite a big number of girls from all over the world and they are good. Every year there are new dives coming up, one more twist, a handstand start. They are all pushing the limit and that's really nice to see that the level is going up and that the performance is really progressing'.
From Wildcard to Defending Champion
Last season saw another first as Rhiannan Iffland claimed overall victory in her debut season while competing as a wildcard diver. Having come from nowhere to capture the crown, the pressure is now on the 25-year old from New South Wales to defend her title. However, Anna Bader is confident that the young Australian can handle the transition from outsider to champion: "I think if anyone can cope then it's her. For me that would be hard, the pressure from outside. I know from experience that this makes things harder but she's been so easy going. She's really enjoying herself and it looks like she can keep it up". Iffland can look forward to stiff competition from the likes of American diver Cesilie Carlton and Adriana Jimenez from Mexico City who's enjoying the best form of her career at just the right time. Jimenez was victorious at April's FINA High Diving World Cup in Abu Dhabi, edging Iffland into second place. Bader anticipates a shoot-out between the two when they touch down in Ireland: "Rhiannan has come up with a new dive, she's very solid. She's also very strong mentally. She's not getting nervous easily, that's a big plus for her, so she's definitely one of the favourites. But then there's Adrianna who won the first competition of the year so she knows she can beat Rhiannan. She's very good technically. It's going to be really tight I think."
More unpredictable than ever
With only six stops on this year's tour, down from nine last season, we could be in for a few more surprises along the way, starting with the Serpent's Lair. Hidden away on the Atlantic coast of the sparse island of Inis Mór, for centuries it was a local secret, one that's only been shared with the wider world in the last five years. Standing on a platform that's taken six-months and hundreds of helicopter drops to complete, the divers will look out to a vista of jagged rock and rolling ocean. Below them, the target: an almost perfectly rectangular seapool formed by thousands of years of the push and pull of the sea. It's a location that's guaranteed to test the mind as much as the body. In the year Anna spent away from the sport having her first child she also found the time to qualify as a geography teacher in her native Germany. Her new qualifications give her an extra interest in the stunning location: 'The limestone cliffs, the subterranean caverns, and the blowhole is amazing. That's so exciting, I find that awesome. Sometimes I look at these things this way as a geography teacher and get so excited. And I'm stood about to dive and I'm like: 'what stone formation is that? It looks so cool, is it sandstone? Limestone?'
The Serpent's Lair makes for the perfect stage for the opening act of this year's Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The divers are certainly starting off at the deep end. And, with competition guaranteed to be fiercer than ever, Anna Bader believes that this year's divers will be intent on starting the season strongly: "Whatever happens it will be an excellent opening event. Whoever makes it through Inis Mór is definitely ready for the season."
Watch Live from Inis Mór
This event will be LIVE on June 24 from 12.00 local time (11.00 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.