Australia's Rhiannan Iffland moved a step closer to retaining her title with a typically strong display of diving on day one of competition at the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
The 3-time champion, who's been in sensational and record-breaking form all season, will carry a considerable 27 point lead into the final rounds as she continues her quest to become the first ever diver to complete the perfect season. Barring an incredible turn of events on Saturday, the Aussie should do at least enough to finish in the top seven and earn a fourth title. If she seals it with a victory, she will be tantalisingly just one win away from conquering all seven stops in 2019.
But, Mostar has proved to be somewhat of a nemesis for her in the past, and she is without a victory here in three previous visits.
"I'm leading after today, but it's never over until the four dives are finished, so I still have some work to do tomorrow," said Iffland. "I don't have a very good track record here, and I always feel a little intimidated when I'm standing on the platform. But I'm really trying to just stay mentally strong and overcome these challenges and those negative thoughts."
Chasing Iffland in the final two rounds will be Genevieve Bradley of the USA, who sits in second place following a very impressive display from 21m in what is only her second ever appearance. Jessica Macaulay of the UK completes the women's top three as things currently stand.
In the men's, Jonathan Paredes twice ripped into the fast-flowing Neretva River to earn an overnight lead in the spot where he celebrated his first World Series victory back in 2015. The Mexican faced some stiff competition from the 27m platform on Friday in the form of Romania's Constantin Popovici, whose promising debut season as a permanent diver had been put on hold for three months due to injury.
"It's pretty amazing to be leading the competition," said Paredes. "Mostar is a very special place for me. Hopefully I can finish the competition well; it's still two dives to go. There are very strong competitors; Costa is back, Catalin is there, Gary is always there."
American Andy Jones completes the top three, while Popovici's compatriot Catalin Preda looks like he could be a serious contender too. The 28-year-old, who memorably made it onto the podium on his debut here last season, opened up with a stunning first dive that earned him a 10 from one judge.
Gary Hunt, chasing his eighth World Series title, is in a similar position to Iffland coming into this stop. A top seven finish will guarantee that the Brit retains the King Kahekili Trophy with one competition to spare, but he finds himself sitting in 10th place after two dives.
"It's often tough here with this current," said Hunt. "I feel like I dived OK, but I'm in 10th place. So everybody else must have had a good competition. Tomorrow it's business as usual. It's the difficult dives, which is where I'm stronger. I'm going to try and have fun, and not think too much about the overall points."
The stage is set for what should be a thrilling final on Saturday, when thousands of passionate and vocal fans will gather beside the Neretva to cheer on the athletes.
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