It's the ultimate goal in diving. It's the perfect score and something that every diver strives for and would love to have in their career. A 10. The highest score from the judges. The label of excellence in this spellbinding sport. Whereas the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has already seen a full season without a single 10 in 2017, the desired digits were awarded a record 13-times in only seven rounds of diving for men and women during the previous two events in Beirut and Mostar. Reason enough to ask the protagonists and their jury what it takes and means to achieve this high note.
"You focus on one dive at a time, on the manoeuvres and do what you need to do in your mind to get ready to show your potential at the highest point. You cannot just say OK, I'll do that dive for 10s. That doesn't work", explains David Colturi from the US, who's achieved six 10s between 2012 and today. "When you wake up in the morning and say, I'm going to have a perfect day – does that ever work? No, probably not. But when you take it one step at a time and focus on the little things, this is how you reach your greatest potential."
It's a lot of hard work that goes on behind that 10. Everything needs to be right at that right time. It doesn't just come out of nowhere for 8 time World Series champion Gary Hunt: "You have to build up that strength and consistency so when you do that perfect dive the judges are there. Sometimes you have to do the perfect dive a few times, because sometimes the judges might be in a bad mood and not be ready to give that 10. Everything has to happen in the right time and the stars have to align."
With the World Series' first-ever perfect dive – all 10s from the five international judges – in the Lebanon-leg of the current season, the brilliant Brit has just added another best to his roster of records. Known for his unshakable character, it becomes obvious that it's mentally what separates the 10 from the rest, as this group of athletes are in their top physical condition.
"When you're riding that wave of confidence and everything is going right, you feel like nothing can shake you and everything goes right," Hunt continues, "I'm on that point at the moment, I've won a few in a row and it feels like I'm unbreakable."
One who's known for meticulously executing his dives and a regular collector of 10s is Mexico's Jonathan Paredes. "It's the one number that gives you confidence and all the power to go through the competition. Right before your dive you're like dying of stress and fear and all these emotions at the same time. But once you come out from the water and see a couple 10s, it's just amazing."
It is exactly this spellbinding emotion of being mesmerized by what you've just witnessed that makes the judges pull the 10. "A perfect 10 if we can call it perfect, kind of makes me want to get out of my judges chair and run around with the crowd because I want to give it a standing ovation. It's the sort of dive that moves me and you just react to it," describes Steve Foley, who gave his first-ever 10 in his career as a judge in the World Series last week in Mostar, when Romania's Constantin Popovici followed Hunt's footsteps by scoring a perfect dive.
Based on the very objective criteria of take off, position in the air and the entry in the water, the judges' reaction to this standard of excellence comes automatically and without hesitation. "When I give a 9 ½ it just didn't quite get me to want to stand up and cheer."
While the judges did experience this immediate reaction over a hundred times in the men's, perfection and excellence has found its way into the women's only rarely. Lysanne Richard's "I'll be there until I get my 10" is a challenge accepted by the Canadian despite recurring injuries. Up and coming diver Iris Schmidbauer from Germany takes the same line when she says that everyone wants to get their personal best to be a 10.
It's once more the sport's dominant female athlete, Rhiannan Iffland from Australia, that increased her personal best of three 10s for the inward 3 somersaults with ½ twist from Lebanon to four 10s in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 4-time overall champion has been riding the wave of confidence, winning all 2019 competitions up until now; so it wouldn't surprise if the 27-year-old tops her – so far – perfect season with a perfect dive in the final showdown in Bilbao, Spain, in two weeks' time.