Friday's Seeding Round threw up a series of surprises, as the competition's leader, Gary Hunt, missed his first dive to register his lowest score ever in World Series competition.
The 14 athletes climbed a monolith and dove 28 metres at the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo on Friday afternoon. Hunt, who is out in front in the overall standings, was the pre-competition favourite but knows that he now has his work cut out on Saturday, with the very real possibility that the Englishman could miss out on the final.
After the event, the 30-year-old counted the cost of the missed dive, a front triple half, that is one of his go-to dives but that on Friday fell foul of the fluctuating waves that were crashing against the base of the cliff: "The monolith got the better of me today. It was tough conditions, there were two- or three-metre waves and rather than try and time my dive with the waves – which didn't seem possible – I just counted myself in and went when I was ready. When I came out of the two and a half somersaults, I knew instantly that I was too high in the air. I had to lift my arms to stop the rotation. It's going to be a tough fight for the Lucky Loser position, but I love challenges and I'm going to do my best."
Hunt will be up against the diver who tops the overnight leaderboard, Steven LoBue, in Saturday's head-to-head. The US athlete executed the same dive as Hunt, but picked up 9s to leave him with an excellent chance of getting his best result in Portugal.
"Conditions here aren't usually on my side," said LoBue, who has finished ninth on both of the World Series' previous visits to the Azores which is the only competition that enables diving directly from the cliff without the use of a platform. "I've been middle to low in the pack after the first couple of required dives from the cliff here in the past, so I'm super happy with today. It was tough conditions and everyone struggled a little bit. Platform diving is my strength, that's how I grew up diving, but I'm getting more comfortable with our abilities, so the cliff is perhaps not as scary as it was two years ago. It takes four good dives to win a competition and it's only the first dive so I've got to focus on the dives I have tomorrow."
Scores after the Seeding Round & head-to-head pairings
1. Steven LoBue (USA) - 100.70pts v 14. Gary Hunt (UK) - 39.90pts
2. Orlando Duque (COL) - 100.70 v 13. Michal Navratil (CZE) - 49.40
3. Andy Jones (USA) - 89.30 v 12. Andreas Hulliger (SUI) - 68.40
4. Kris Kolanus (POL) - 86.40 v 11. Sasha Kutsenko (USA) - 68.40
5. Artem Silchenko (RUS) - 85.50 v 10. David Colturi (USA) - 68.40
6. Alain Kohl (LUX) - 83.60 v 9. Kyle Mitrione (USA) - 73.80
7. Blake Aldridge (UK) - 79.80 v 8. Jonathan Paredes (MEX) - 77.90