As the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series rolls into its penultimate stop at the beautiful Sandanbeki cliffs in Japan, much of the pre-event hype surrounds the two title duels that are reaching an exciting climax in the men's and women's competition. Despite the drama at the top of the standings though, one man who is threatening to steal the headlines this weekend is Michal Navratil. The Czech showman, who grabbed his first victory at the 53rd attempt in Wales, and then followed that up with another stunning win in Mostar, is now going in search of what would be a sensational hat-trick in the Land of the Rising Sun.
A familiar face on the World Series, having competed in every season since the very beginning in 2009, Navratil has perhaps been more famous in recent years for his 'Superman' dives at the end of competitions - hence the nickname 'Supratil'. But this season the 31-year-old has taken the superhero comparisons to another level, overcoming a mid-season knee surgery to power back in style with two magnificent wins in a row, proving that he really is cliff diving's Man of Steel.
His decision to go under the knife during the mid-season break in August to fix a torn meniscus was a tough one, and one that threatened to jeopardise the remainder of his season. When he pulled out of Polignano a Mare later that same month, many assumed that the ever-cheerful showman would not be gracing the platform again in 2016..
"Maybe the universe wanted me to stop, so I stopped,' explains Navratil. There was no other way. I knew that something wasn't right with my knee and I was losing places because of the injury."
All eyes were eagerly awaiting to see how he would perform on his September return in Wales, with both experts and fans doubting that even the super-fit Czech could recover so soon to dive, let alone have any say in the final outcome. What followed was one of the most dramatic storylines in the history of this competition. After 52 events and only eight previous podium finishes, Navratil put down four exceptional dives and, to the amazement of everyone, powered to the top of the podium. Not even 5-time champion Gary Hunt, aiming for a memorable win on home soil, could stop the Czech from celebrating his maiden victory.
Not one to relax, or simply revel in the glory of his newfound success, Navratil went from strength to strength and arrived two weeks later in Mostar brimming with confidence. Once again there were doubts. Was Wales just a fluke? Could he really be a contender for top spot again? But in true superhero style he swatted away both his rivals and the doubters, spread his wings and soared to victory again.
"For me it's amazing what confidence can do," observes Gary Hunt, the man who has finished runner-up to Navratil on both occasions. "After his one win in Wales he's almost a different diver in Bosnia. He used this confidence to put in another performance. Now it's for us to build up our own confidence and pull out the performance to stop him in his tracks."
Having powered past the impressive Andy Jones into third place overall, Navratil can now set his sights on Jonathan Paredes in second. The Mexican is currently involved in a title duel with Hunt, but with only 80 points separating him and the unrelenting Czech, 26-year-old Paredes may soon be nervously looking over his shoulder.
"The main goal is third place," reveals Navratil with a trademark smile, "but if I have the chance then it will be a pleasure to step up to second."
Clearly the surgery has worked wonders for him, but Navratil also credits his amazing recent form to a different approach to competition: "I train less now because I realised my body was taking a lot of punishment. Now I'm more focused on mental strength, focusing on my entries and eliminating the mistakes". Even Paredes, his rival for second place overall, has stated that the Czech has "a strong mind".
So, with the knee fixed and the mind strong and settled, are there any weaknesses left in this cliff diving superhero? Just one, it seems - clouds: "I'm worried because it's cloudy here right now. When I won in Wales and Mostar the sun was shining."
Maybe, just maybe, this Sunday the clouds will clear and out of the blue skies a Czech cliff diver will swoop down to collect a most stunning hat-trick.
Watch it Live
This event will be LIVE on October 16 from 4.50 AM GMT on www.redbullcliffdiving.com and Red Bull TV. 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.
Note that the live webcast and replay is geo-blocked in the US due to an exclusive broadcast deal with FOX Sports. The event will air on FS1 at 8am (ET) on November 20.