At the beginning of the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, American Andy Jones set himself an ambitious but achievable target - to make the overall top three and grab a coveted place on the final podium in Dubai. Now, after six events and a stunning streak of form that has seen him pocket two runner-up finishes and a third place, the 31-year-old heads into Mostar this weekend perched nicely in third position and primed to deliver on that pre-season goal.
After a slow start on home soil in Texas and then in Copenhagen, where he could only make 9th and 10th place respectively, Jones kick-started his season in the Portuguese Azores with a brilliant display of diving that saw him finish second only to 5-time champion Gary Hunt. Two weeks later he followed that up with another eye-catching performance from the Saint Nicolas Tower in La Rochelle, again finding only the brilliant Brit above him on the podium. A solid 6th place in Italy preceded his third top-three finish of the season in Wales, confirming this as his best year so far with a trio of events still to go.
"I don't really want to think about it too much right now," said Jones of the fight for overall third, "I definitely know that there's a lot of diving left this season, and I'm just keeping the same focus which is do every dive as well as I can."
This time last year the Cirque Du Soleil performer was embroiled in a battle with the Czech Republic's Michal Navratil for a top six finish in order to ensure automatic qualification to this year's World Series; a battle that Jones eventually won. Fast forward 12 months and the same two men look set to slug it out during the final three events for that precious spot on the end of season podium. Navratil recently returned from knee surgery to score his first ever victory in eight seasons at Blue Lagoon in Wales, a result that rocketed him up to 4th place where he sits just 30 points behind Jones. Asked if he felt pressure from the Czech showman, Jones answered, "I definitely know that he is right behind me in fourth place, but again that's where I just have to put that out of my mind and focus on each dive."
With this weekend's competition in Mostar still to come, as well as the final two events in Japan and Dubai, it's understandable that the versatile athlete, who is also the creative mind behind USA Cliff Diving, doesn't want to think too far ahead just yet. But following such an impressive run of form this season, can he put his improved performances down to anything in particular?
"It's definitely been a really good year for me. I do have some support from NuSkin and Pharmanex, which helps me mentally. Just knowing that someone is backing me and supporting me. Other than that I've just gotten really confident with the top of my dives".
Confidence is clearly oozing from the laid-back American, but his return to Stari Most has also been tinted with a touch of fear:
"Last time I was here I was not in great shape. I was battling a neck injury and a huge hematoma in my hip, and was a little bit scared to come back just because of that experience, but I think I overcame those fears today in training. I love the city and the locals. It's a fun place to be and the history of this bridge is pretty incredible."
Jones will be looking to make his own little bit of history this weekend and soar even higher in what is already his best-ever season in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Watch it Live
This event will be LIVE on September 24 from 2.20 PM CET 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 10.30am (ET) on October 30.