Following the cancellation of dives on Friday at the fourth stop of the 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in the Portuguese Azores, the focus has once again turned to the weather for the second time this season. Here we take a look at some of the rules and regulations regarding the elements and their role in cliff diving, and remember back to some of the stops in the past 10 years that have been affected.
No upper limit has ever been set by the sports committee for temperature; in fact just last season the divers happily displayed their skills in searing 47C heat at Hell's Gate in Texas. At the other end of the scale, however, cold air and water can be very troublesome for these finely tuned athletes.
At the 2017 finale in Chile, competition went ahead despite the frigid 8C water, but the experience proved a catalyst for the introduction of a new minimum water temperature ruling. If the water thermometer goes below 12C, it is deemed that all optional/hard dives present an increased risk of injury, which is exactly what happened just a few weeks ago in Dublin, Ireland. The event went ahead, but with the more difficult dives being inhibited it was decided that no championship points would be awarded.
Precipitation has very rarely been a problem for the divers over the years, and many a leap from up to 27m has been executed against the pitter patter of raindrops. However, and this is case in the Azores this week, certain locations and situations are considered more risky for the divers when it's wet.
For the first two rounds in Portugal's mid-Atlantic archipelago, diving takes place directly from the volcanic rocks, which are less stable than the man-made platforms, especially when wet. Not only that, but the second round dives involve abseiling to reach the take-off spot. Wet ropes, wet divers and wet rocks are not an ideal combination; hence the decision to cancel all diving on Friday this year and wait for the drier and brighter conditions on Saturday.
"Thankfully we've been coming here to the Azores for 8 years," said American David Colturi, "so the weather is something you condition yourself with. We've had delays before, we've had early mornings and cancellations, so this is something that you train yourself for.
"We have a down day today, so you need to stay fresh and loose, and move around a little bit so your muscles don't get tight. Maybe whup Andy and Steve in some ping pong, then go relax in the steam room or sauna!"
Perhaps the most pesky of all the elements for a cliff diver is wind. It can be a beautiful day, the sun beating down and blue skies as far as the eye can see. But if a breeze whips up and strong gusts begin to blow, then that's a diver's worst nightmare. However much you train, work out and visualise, no diver is immune from the unbalancing powers of wind when perched on their tiptoes on the edge of a platform. The official maximum wind speed allowed is 50km/h. Anything around or above that and the divers can get back to honing their ping pong skills.
In 2016, training day was wiped out on an extremely blowy day on the Welsh coast. With a further storm predicted for the final day, the committee took advantage of what was a strangely beautiful first rounds day, wedged in between the storms, to allow the divers to complete all four rounds one after another for the first time in World Series history.
Unsurprisingly, lightning is the one element that will fry the chances of a cliff diving event going ahead if so much as even one bolt is detected within a 10km radius. Everyone loves to see a buzzing crowd at a cliff diving stop, but not literally!
No event has ever been cancelled due to Thor throwing his weight about, but there have been a few instances over the years of delayed rounds and disrupted schedules.
"Actually, the weather is a part that I really like about this sport," admits Canada's Lysanne Richard. "I always feel like a kid, like when there's going to be a storm or a thunderstorm and we're going to play out anyway. I really like that we have to be on standby, and that we have to adapt. We need to be able to get in the zone really fast."
Due to the nature of their sport cliff divers always have been, and always will be, at the mercy of Mother Nature. But 10 years of programming their minds as well as their bodies, learning to adapt and deal with delays, cancellations and general disruption to routines and schedules, means they have developed into a very adaptive breed of athlete. Whatever the skies or waters throw at them, they'll always be ready and raring to go the next hour, the next day or the next stop.
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