You might well think that they must be very young, completely crazy, and in need of more than a mere adrenaline kick, but they aren’t, these Red Bull cliff divers, they are sensible, grown-up, intelligent men who think about their chosen sport very carefully well aware of the risk involved and the need for absolute concentration.
Orlando Duque is 35-years old. After more than a decade of Olympic diving, he switched, in 1995, to what he calls ‘the more natural form of diving’. In the year 2000 he entered the Guinness Book of Records with a perfect 10 score at the World Championships. So far he has nine world championship titles and two Red Bull Cliff Diving crowns. His highest dive was a 34-metre descent off a bridge in Italy immortalised in his film 9 Dives. When asked if he feels fear, he replied “I think that the feeling of fear is important for me, because it keeps me focused, it keeps me going through the right steps. I have to go through step 1, then step 2, then step 3 to have a good dive. So it helps me get focused to have a more successful dive.”
27-year old Gary Hunt on the other hand was merely a precocious rising star two years ago when he introduced a dive of such complexity that his rivals had to sit up and take notice. His star has continued to rise and now with two Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series under his belt, he seems unstoppable. Fear and respect for his chosen sport are paramount at all times. “All it takes is when you take off for a big gust of wind to come and change everything, so every high dive you get butterflies,” he said in 2009.
“Standing on the platform it’s a feeling of freedom … and then, you could fly. Falling down without any parachute, it’s amazing. It’s really an unbelievable feeling,” says Artem Silchenko. He won the world championships in 2006 at the age of only 22 and is now famous for his great diving technique and his unceasing motivation, “I always want to win,” he says. It’s hardly surprising that this man’s favourite pastime is chess. He has come third in the last two Red Bull World series and is determined to improve on this this year. First place has already been grabbed by Gary Hunt but the fight is on for 2nd.
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series’ most senior athlete – 45-year-old Ukrainian Slava Polyeshchuk has been diving for as long as many of his rivals have been alive. He is also enjoying one of his most successful seasons ever in 2011.
Michal Navratil is the other possible contender for 2nd or 3rd place. Last year he was the youngest contender in the series and desperate for a place on the podium. The closest he came was at the penultimate competition in Switzerland where he took 4th place. He has been jumping out of his skin this year and is determined to end up on the Red Bull podium.
All 3 of the above, bar Orlando Duque who is out of this year’s competition due to injury – an injury not sustained whilst cliff diving, but whilst out having a bit of fun skydiving, and (obviously) Gary Hunt who has already seized 1st place – are jostling for position in this weekends’ final competition which is to be held at Swallow’s Nest Castle in the Ukraine. Only 12 points separate Silchenko (RUS), in second, and Ukraine’s Polyeschuk, in fourth, with Navratil (CZE) sandwiched between them. With the home crowd behind him, Polyeschuk will be determined to provide some stiff competition.
And out there for the first time and dying to prove themselves are the 3 rookies, Steve LoBue, Jorge Ferzuli and Sacha Kutsenko. All are having their debut season in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series:
Also back for this final competition is Australian Steve Black, and two more wildcards – Blake Aldridge (GBR) and Gennadiy Kutsenko (UKR), the twin brother of Sacha.
Watch Sunday’s grand finale on Red Bull TV, with the live action getting underway at 12.45pm (local Utime).