The 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is about to kick off in El Nido, Philippines, and once again a tight and thrilling men's title fight is expected. 7-time champion Gary Hunt will again start as favourite to take home the King Kahekili trophy, but his rivals will have been working hard in the off-season to challenge the Brit.
With the new season just around the corner, let's take a closer look at the top three contenders for the men's title.
Gary Hunt (UK)
The eagles were circling, and the news was spreading that Gary Hunt, the great and powerful, was finished. After a failed final dive lost him the title in Chile in 2017, the Brit lost faith in his famous twisting powers and opened his account last season with 8th and 10th place finishes in Texas and Bilbao. But it seems rumours of Hunt's demise were greatly exaggerated, and after a tentative return to twisting earned him a first podium in Azores, the 1984-born rediscovered the magic that has brought him a record number of World Series titles to reel off four wins in a row to earn title number 7.
The man who loves jumping out windows and balconies as a proper wake-up routine, has amassed outstanding numbers and records in his unrivalled career in the World Series: 34 victories, 59 podiums in 72 competitions – he has not missed a single event. For his 11th season in the World Series, the skilled juggler has announced one goal: "Stay unbeaten throughout the season."
• 7-time winner Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
• Winner of 34 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competitions to date
• 2018 & 2016 - Winner FINA High Diving World Cup
• 2015 - FINA High Diving World Champion
• 2006 - 3rd Commonwealth Games 10m Synchro
Steven LoBue (USA)
Bilbao 2018 was Déjà Bue time! Steven LoBue spun his way to a stunning victory at the second stop in Spain, earning top spot on the podium for the first time since his win in the very same location back in 2015 to kick off a monumental season for the Florida-based American.
After no victory in 16 competitions, the 1985-born made it back-to-back wins, added two more 10s to his name, and displayed the best performance of his forward 5 somersaults with ½ twist ever to score the highest note in an optional dive – 147,90 points, record-high score for a single dive.
In the 2017 FINA world champion's most successful season ever, he came closer than ever before to taking the men's King Kahekii trophy back to the USA for the first time. Can he finally do it in 2019?
• 2018 - 2nd overall Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
• 2017 - FINA High Diving World Champion
• 2015 - Winner Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Bilbao (ESP)
• 2004 - Olympic Trials finalist
Jonathan Paredes (MEX)
2018 was a patchy season for the former champion, whose three podium finishes were dampened by a 10th and 6th place. That's not to say he went backwards last year; in fact his points tally in those three podium finishes would have been enough to score three victories in the previous season. The problem was, when the Mexican found his form in 2018, he unfortunately ran into the juggernauts Hunt and LoBue, who were smashing records left, right and centre. Paredes needed to win in Italy and hope those two failed badly, but any doubters needed only to look back at 2017's finale to know that anything can happen.
The former champion will be looking for a strong start in 2019, and if the 'stylemaster' can stay consistent then he'll certainly be a major contender this season.
• 2018 - 3rd overall Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
• 2017 - Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Champion
• 2016 - 2nd FINA High Diving World Cup
• 2015 - 1st Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar (BIH)
• 2015 - 2nd FINA High Diving World Championship