Picture this: stepping onto a platform 27 metres high, walking to the edge, looking down and taking a deep breath, then launching off into a twisting, somersaulting, gravity-defying dive at speeds in excess of 85km/h, with nothing but concentration and skill for protection. Now, imagine doing that repeatedly over the course of a few months under the pressure of fighting for precious championship points. With the 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series reaching its half-way point in Italy's Polignano a Mare this weekend, how is the stress of three competitions in five weeks taking its toll on the body and mind of the world's best cliff divers?
"It's a tough time to be a cliff diver right now," says American David Colturi. "It's a jam-packed season and this is where all the preparation in the off-season comes into play. Did you do everything right, did you prepare properly. These are the really important things that begin to pay off at this point."
Off-season preparation is clearly a crucial factor when it comes to surviving the demanding nature of this sport. It's not just the rapid twisting of body and folding of limbs that takes its toll, but also the massive impact with the water – up to 5G of physical force – which means a cliff diver's body needs to be in prime condition from the start.
Cesilie Carlton came into the season well-prepared and is now reaping the benefits of her fitness regime. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.
"Off-season is really important," explains Cesilie Carlton of the USA. "If you come into the season in great shape then you should do well. I do a lot of running, functional gym workouts and gymnastics. It's really important to have a strong core. The stomach, lower back and legs need to be strong to survive the impact with the water. I felt great coming into this season and I know that even if I tweak something, like I did with my back in Ireland, my body will recover quickly."
Injuries are already beginning to stack up though at this point of the season, and even the most well-oiled and prepared athletes can struggle to recover quickly from the more serious pulls and strains. Thankfully they have an ace card to call upon though, in the form of Angela Passenbrunner, the physiotherapist who travels with them at every stop. Colturi speaks in glowing terms about the work she does:
"Angie is irreplaceable. She always helps with an immediate remedy and then follows up with the long-term solution. We've worked with a lot of physios but she's one of a kind, and we thank our lucky stars we have her." It seems that the Austrian physio also has a magic touch, according to Australia's Helena Merten: "Today I had a really bad sinus issue and she just touched it and it was gone."
"You've got to take care of your body, that's the main thing," says the experienced Orlando Duque, who recovered from a serious ankle injury in 2011 and recently scored a victory in the Azores. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.
The body is just the half of it though when it comes to survival of the fittest. Mental strength is seemingly just as important in getting through a long and demanding season. Six-time World Series champion Gary Hunt, who is the only diver to compete in all 61 events since the competition began in 2009, puts it quite simply: "Think positive, act positive and you'll go a long way."
Fellow Brit Blake Aldridge, who has had his fair share of injury woes over the past few seasons, explains that it's more of a warrior mentality that gets him through. "We love what we do, and we don't give up. We love the thrill and we carry on fighting, and that's the mentality you need to have in this sport."
A demanding sport for body and mind - Steven LoBue strains every sinew as he leaps from the 27m platform in Polignano a Mare. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.
The fight for the World Series title is one of the toughest and most demanding in sport, and the term 'survival of the fittest' could not be more true for the daring and talented athletes who take part. When it comes down to it, it's a good mix of pre-season preparation, physical management and mental strength that goes a long way to deciding the eventual champion. And of course, a little magic touch here and there from the physio.
Watch Live from Polignano a Mare
This event will be LIVE on July 23 from 15.45 local time (13.45 GMT) on www.redbullcliffdiving.com, Red Bull TV and Facebook. 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.