Difficulty or consistency; that's the big question that every cliff diver has to consider. For some, a successful career can be forged through a dependable 'easy' dive list which consistently delivers solid scores and respectable results. For others, that simply isn't enough, and arming themselves with the more difficult high-scoring dives is the only route they see to the top. It's a gamble that can pay off handsomely if it works, but leave you at the bottom of the pile if it doesn't.
Two athletes who perfectly illustrate the promise and pitfalls of opting for difficulty are Mexico's Jonathan Paredes and Russian Artem Silchenko. Paredes, famous for years for perfectly executing the easier dives, but never making it to the top, finally upped his degree of difficulty in 2017 and took home the title. Silchenko, a former World Series champion, decided in 2016 to commit to his famously difficult blind entries, and despite a victory in Italy that season, ended up losing his permanent place on the tour.
Colombian legend Orlando Duque, currently injured and unable to compete in Sisikon, caught up with the divers during their first training session in Switzerland to put the question to them directly.
Duque: Steve, DD or consistency, what do you think?
Steven LoBue: That's always the question, isn't it? In every sport it's always technicality and style versus how difficult something is. Look at the history and the people that have won it. It always comes down to consistency. That was the whole idea of taking a step back; it's just learning that lesson from Jonny (Paredes). You can increase things as you go.
Duque: You think it's gone to the point of a lot of difficulty as well as consistency?
LoBue: That's why Gary dominated for so long. He wasn't only doing the hardest dive, but also smashing it. A lot of the guys are doing it now, and Jonny also stepped up his list; he did a triple triple here.
Duque: Jonny, how do you manage to do both – high degree of difficulty and be consistent?
Jonathan Paredes: I think it's all in your mind. The way you focus before the dive, because it doesn't matter if it's a difficult or an easy dive. If you have your mind focused on what you have to do, you can have a good dive, so that means consistency.
Duque: Jess, how can you do both in competition – consistency and high DD?
Jessica Macaulay: I think you need to pick the degree of difficulty that pushes your limits, but at the same time not too much so that you're not consistent.
Duque: At the level you see the girls diving now, you think that you need high difficulty and good dives as well, not just difficulty anymore?
Macaulay: I believe so. To make the podium you need high difficulty and consistency.
Duque: Kris, we're getting to the point that one is not good enough, how can you combine both?
Kris Kolanus: Before, my dives were kind of easy, but I was consistent. If I want to jump on the podium, I have to do more difficult dives. Now I'm at the point where I need to combine the two.
Duque: Exactly, that's what we want. How do you get there?
Kolanus: I think everyone has to find a different recipe. I like front and inward dives, another person might like twisting. You need to understand as a diver what you need to train, with which dives you feel comfortable and find your own way. I knew right from the beginning that the quint half is my dive, but it took me eight years to finally do it.
Duque: And do it nice.
Duque: Gary, right now we see some of the guys doing harder dives, doing high quality; you have done this for a long time, very difficult dives, very high quality – how do you find that balance?
Gary Hunt: You find the balance just through experience; every diver goes through a journey of finding their maximum DD or finding the level where they can compete consistent dives that are difficult. You see a lot of divers that learn a difficult dive but it's not consistent enough and the you see them dialling back. For example, Steve with the quint, myself with the front twist.
Duque: Do you feel you yourself pushed the sport a lot to get to this point? For many years it was obviously some difficulty, mostly consistency, technique, clean dives, but you came and pushed it to a point where it became big dives but also with consistency.
Hunt: For sure, it makes a big difference if the person in the lead has difficulty. The only way for the others to compete is by also following. The main reason, though, is the fact that we had a consistent season and many divers where given the chance to do competition after competition. It was only after the first few competitions that the divers got used to the height and their confidence rose. When you see other people doing difficult dives you realise what the possibilities are and that helps.
Duque: Andy, you're doing very difficult dives, nice dives but also very consistent and you have good results.
Andy Jones: At first, doing difficult dives was pretty scary for me. I did a lot of dives and I got pretty consistent entries; but when I started doing harder dives, my entries struggled for a bit and I worked lead-ups on 10 meter until they got easier and then it just all felt the same. It's numbers, I think. Not just from lower heights, you have to work entries from 27m, which is what we compete from. You can train entries from 20m, but at the end of the day you have to line your dives up from the top.
Duque: Adriana, you're doing some of the most difficult dives in the women's. How do you get to the point of doing the difficulty, but doing it right?
Adriana Jimenez: The secret for me is to do a lot of harness and visualisation; learn the rhythm of the dive and where to spot the water.
Duque: The level of competition is so high right now and high difficulty and consistency seems to be the key. How do you combine those two to be able to be on top of the podium?
Rhiannan Iffland: It's very tough to come to a competition and do four dives consistently. I think it's a big mental game and you need to rely on your training when you step onto the platform; be confident and just rely on what you know.
Duque: You think you found your formula?
Iffland: I like to think so. In my first season I had to learn it very fast. I had a very bad competition and that woke me up. Just no panicking when it comes to competition, doing the dives as I know them and just kind of trying to forget that the judges are there
In this increasingly competitive sport, more of the elite men and women are now opting for the bigger dives, and it seems that the old adage 'go big or go home' has never been more true. Consistency, though, is clearly still key to success. Nailing the odd difficult dive here and there over the course of the season is not good enough. If you want to go big and go home with the King Kahekili trophy, then a perfect balance of difficulty and consistency needs to be found.
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