For over a decade now, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has provided some unforgettable, dramatic and emotional sporting moments. Rhiannan Iffland's debut victory in Texas, Jonathan Paredes' last gasp title win in the waterfalls of Chile and Gary Hunt's 'perfect 10' dive in Beirut are just a few that stand out in the memory. But when it comes to pure fairytale moments, nothing quite matches the Cinderella story that unfolded three years ago today on the beautiful Adriatic cliffs of Italy.
On July 23rd, 2017, the World Series witnessed perhaps its most heart-warming and uplifting moment when Alessandro De Rose became the first male wildcard to win an event. A feat that would have been stunning in any setting was made all the more historic and emotional due to the fact it was played out in front of a raucous and passionate Italian crowd at the home of European cliff diving in Polignano a Mare.
De Rose, the only Italian to have ever competed in the World Series, had made his debut in the sport in 2013 at the age of 21, but it wasn't until 2016 that he managed to break into the top 10 at a competition. That same year, cliff diving fans got their first glimpse of what this location and this crowd could bring out in the Italian. A career best fourth-place finish, missing out on his first podium by just 2.6pts.
The opening stop of 2017, at a windswept and choppy Inis Mór on the Irish coast, was not a good match for De Rose. But just four weeks later, the stars were to align for the local hero when the World Series landed back in sun-drenched Polignano a Mare.
While it was Mexico's Paredes who held the lead after the first two dives, the story of day one was centred around De Rose, who had pulled out a pair of stunning dives to defy his wildcard status and leap into second place in the overnight standings. The crowd was weaving that powerful spell over him once again.
"Every time that we dive anywhere else, we are by ourselves on the platform," explained De Rose at the halfway stage, "but here I have all these people giving me the power and I dive with them."
As the crowds streamed excitedly back to the beach the next day, they were buoyed by the genuine prospect of a first-ever podium for their hero. If De Rose could just hold onto second, or even third, there would be wild celebrations. With the likes of Hunt, Paredes and a host of other more experienced names on display, not many even dared to dream about victory.
Things continued to fall right for De Rose in round 3. Another beautiful dive earned him 8s and 9s from the judges and the overall lead, while Paredes dropped down the standings with a disappointing effort. Serial winner Hunt was also having an exceedingly rare off day, failing to make the cut for the final round.
The Italian was now guaranteed to be last to dive in the final round. Suddenly, thoughts changed from a possible podium finish to the previously unthinkable. Could it happen? Could the local hero really see off the superstars of this sport and become the first men's wildcard winner?
In the final round, De Rose was confronted by a charge from the Americans. First, Andy Jones ripped into the Adriatic to take the lead before David Colturi bettered his compatriot and cruised into top spot. As the Italian stepped to the edge of the platform for the final dive of the competition, the nervous excitement was palpable all around. A solid dive would guarantee him a podium place, while a poor one would end the dream. One more great dive, however, would seal a sensational victory.
The bell rang, the crowd fell silent and the 25-year-old overcame both nerves and pressure to reel off another immaculate dive. As he emerged from the water to the deafening roar of 50,000 fans, De Rose realised his dreams had come true.
"I have not yet realised what just happened," said a disbelieving De Rose. "One moment I was on the platform, I hit the water and the people were screaming. The crowd was a big help today. Every time I was on the platform, I was really nervous. As soon as I heard the people below, my heartbeat started to go down a bit. So I knew the people are with me and I only had to dive as I know it. It's a dream come true. Orlando is a legend, Gary is a legend and I was better than them."
History had been made, and nobody who was there or watching live on TV that day will ever forget the emotions of it all.