Orlando Duque and wildcard Kris Kolanus dished up the best dives of the day as the men battled it out in Round 1 of the fourth stop of the 2016 season. They will share the lead heading into the final rounds in La Rochelle on Saturday, but reigning world champion and two-time winner already this season, Gary Hunt, has his work cut out after a below par effort left him sitting in 13th place.
Red Bull Cliff Diving made its debut at this very spot in the Bay of Biscay back in 2009, and it was fitting that at the birthplace of the World Series it was cliff diving legend Orlando Duque who fired to the top of the standings with a beautifully executed first round dive. The 41-year-old Colombian, 2nd overall in 2015, scored 117.30 with his first dive from 27 metres off the Tour Saint-Nicolas, and although he hasn't won an event since his victory in the USA back in 2013, he's hopeful of making every dive count tomorrow.
"I definitely have unfinished business here", said the 2009 world champion, "I've had a few good results here, but never won. I just got to dive good tomorrow, two good dives, make the final and make sure the fourth dive still counts."
Joining Duque at the summit of the standings is Poland's Kris Kolanus, who continues to defy his wildcard status with another stunning start following his second-place finish in Copenhagen back in June. On that weekend the Pole, who loves to dabble in graffiti art, laid down four superb dives and is clearly keen on painting another bright chapter in his career this weekend.
Gary Hunt, now a resident in France, failed to fire on the familiar territory where he has won three times already. An ugly entry into the water meant that the judges could only reach for sixes, resulting in a score of 80.50 and a lowly 13th position in the overnight standings. The 'brilliant Brit', who is a keen pianist away from the platform, is planning to bring back the hardest dive in the world on Saturday, his famous 'double in double out' (Front 3 Somersaults 4 1/2 Twists), and if he hits the right notes and nails that dive then there's every chance he can still claim his hat-trick of wins in 2016 right here.
All eyes were also on American Steven LoBue, who had a nasty accident in this spot last season, cracking his head on the platform and opening up a cut above his eye. Amazingly, he managed to complete his dive and escape without serious injury, but fear and nerves were inevitable for the new dad on his return to the scene.
"Obviously I watched the video a ton of times again as a reminder of what can happen," admitted the 31-year-old, "seeing it it's almost like an out of body experience, because I watch it, but I can't really remember. I put it out of my brain. It doesn't really faze me. And I'm one year older, one year wiser and just happy be here."
There were certainly no signs of fear as he leapt confidently from the platform and swooped cleanly into the waters of La Rochelle harbour below.
Amazing 360° view from the platform in La Rochelle, courtesy of off duty female cliff diver, Helena Merten.
On Saturday the world's best male cliff divers will once again make the daunting journey up the tower, and with three more rounds to come there is everything to play for. A record-breaking crowd in excess of 75,000 is expected to line the streets around the harbour, creating a one-off atmosphere that will surely inspire a thrilling evening of action.
Round 1 results:
Kris Kolanus (POL) (W) - 117.30
Orlando Duque (COL) - 117.30
Jonathan Paredes (MEX) - 116.10
Michal Navratil (CZE) - 115.00
Blake Aldridge (GBR) - 115.00
David Colturi (USA) - 115.00
Steven LoBue (USA) - 110.40
Andy Jones (USA) - 110.40
Artem Silchenko (RUS) - 105.80
Jucelino Junior (BRA) (W) - 101.80
Viktar Masluoski (BLR) (W) - 94.50
Cyrille Oumedjkane (FRA) (W) - 87.40
Gary Hunt (GBR) - 80.50
Sergio Guzman (MEX) - 71.30
Watch it Live
This event will be LIVE on July 23 from 4.50 PM 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 1pm (ET) on August 21.