Rhiannan Iffland may have begun the season as a little-known wildcard in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, but two sensational victories have catapulted the Australian not only to the top of the women's leaderboard, but also into the media spotlight. Now, at the fifth stop of the 2016 season in Polignano a Mare, Italy, she is aiming to continue her meteoric rise and become the first rookie to score a hattrick of wins.
Just 12 months ago Iffland was here in Italy as a guest of German diver, Anna Bader, and even took the opportunity to have a couple of dives off the women's platform. Little did anyone know back then that the 24-year-old was a star waiting in the wings, and those practice dives were just a rehearsal for the thrilling show that she is now putting on.
"It feels nice to be back," says Iffland. "When I walked up to the platform I kind of felt like I was brand new again. It's a little bit higher than the other locations (21.5m) but I feel pretty good and I feel confident up there."
It's no surprise to hear that she feels confident, considering her lead at the top is a healthy 150 points. Another victory this weekend and it'll be a huge blow to her rivals, who are currently chasing the Aussie wildcard.
But with success surely comes the inevitable pressure of being the leader, and also the growing media attention.
"Of course I have pressure on me, but I don't feel it from the other girls," explains Iffland. "I feel a little bit more from the media and I know I have some eyes on me now. As hard as it is I try not to carry any pressure on my shoulders. I just want to go out there and do what what I know how to do and enjoy it."
One woman who is part of the chasing pack is Rachelle Simpson. Champion for the last two years in a row, the Texan is currently trailing in 7th place, 270 points behind Iffland. Despite the fact that they are athletes competing for the same title, 28-year-old Simpson speaks in glowing terms about the newcomer who is threatening her reign at the top:
"What an incredible young woman. I am so impressed and inspired by her. She definitely has some of that "Hunt and Duque" coolness up on the platform and maybe a little bit of that "Jonathan Paredes" form and ripped entry. My hat is off to her for sure and I am so stoked for her success. She is such a great addition for the ladies and I cannot wait to see what she does in the future."
The future? Well, it certainly looks bright. Not just for Iffland, but also for the women's competition as a whole. It is only their third season competing in the World Series, but already they are attracting plenty of attention in the media, as well as thrilling the huge crowds that gather at locations around the world, where the women are competing at seven of the nine competitions in 2016. Simpson has seen a huge leap in the women's competition, and can't contain her excitement for the possibilites that lie ahead:
"The women are blowing my mind. New, harder degree of difficulty dives and more consistent than ever. I think added competition loads will only help. I can also see height being added in the future. We are doing bigger and harder dives but there may come a time when we need more room for added flips and twists."
"Maybe we are still in the shadow of the men, but I think we are gradually making a name for ourselves."
The shadow is certainly fading as the women continue to light up the cliff diving world. And maybe, it might be a trampoline-loving wildcard from Australia who leaps up and shines the brightest of all come the end of 2016.
Watch it Live
The Polignano a Mare event will be LIVE on August 28 from 3.50 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 8am (ET) on September 25.