Fifteen of the world’s best and bravest high divers visit Australia to battle it out for a place in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Some of the divers listen to music while they wait their turn; others sit in quiet contemplation. Some warm up; others try to calm down. Some kiss their lucky charm; others bless themselves. All of them, when they stand on the edge of the platform are alone and afraid.
“Everyone is scared,” says Blake Aldridge. “Ask anyone here and if they tell you they’re not scared, they’re trying to be a bigger man than they are.”
Aldridge is one of 15 divers from nine countries who have gathered near Sydney, Australia, for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series qualifier. The top four will get a place in the 2012 season, joining the top seven divers from last year. The series get under way on June 22 in France, followed by stops in Norway, Portugal, Ireland, the USA and Wales before the finale in Oman in September.
Qualifying for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is by no means easy. If the divers have an off day in one of the events during the series, they can shake it off and look forward to the next one. In the Australia qualifier the divers are judged on eight dives over two days of competition. One bad dive could end their chances of qualifying. The standard is that high. Five divers who finished outside the top seven last year are in Australia hoping to reclaim their place among the world’s elite. Of the 10 other divers, two in particular, Aldridge and David Colturi are tipped as ones to watch.
Aldridge is a 29-year-old former British Olympian and the first diver to compete in the Olympics and the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Colturi only took up the sport last year after an impressive collegiate diving career in the US. The 23-year-old won national titles but was just below Olympic standard.
“I could have trained really hard for a long time and I might have got to the Olympics, but this was a better option for me,” says Colturi, an all-American type who is studying to be a doctor. “You’re representing yourself, there are no coaches and everyone is here to have fun. It’s like a brotherhood.” That sense of brotherhood is evident on the first day of competition. It’s a wet, miserable, Thursday afternoon – not the beach and barbecue weather you might expect in Australia – and the steep forest trail up to the cliff is getting muddier by the minute. The divers are completing their last-minute preparations inside a tent beside the specially constructed 27.5m-high platform jutting out over
the Hawkesbury River. Just before the competition commences, all 15 divers come together and exchange high fives, hugs and words of encouragement: “Have a good day, man.” “Good luck.” “Take Care.” “Be safe.”
The foul weather makes it more difficult and dangerous than usual. Wet hands and feet make it difficult to hold on to a tuck. Cold muscles tense up leading to more impact injuries. Igor Semashko ruptures his groin on the first dive and Andrey Rublev injures his knee after hitting the platform. Both Russians are forced to withdraw from the competition. Aldridge leads after the first day, followed by Colturi, Steven LoBue (USA) and Todor Spasov (Bulgaria).
“It means nothing,” says Aldridge. “There are four more dives to go. We’ve had some casualties today and there’s nothing to say there won’t be more but it’s for me to lose now.”
Read the full story in June's issue of The Red Bulletin.