High diving under FINA umbrella: towards maturity

High Diving World Cup

Andy Jones (USA) - credit: Romina Amato/Red Bull Cliff DivingAndy Jones gets it right: “It’s scary to think where it will be in another 10 years.” Representing the USA, the 29-year-old high diver will be one of the 26 male athletes competing in the first edition of the FINA High Diving World Cup, taking place in Kazan (RUS) from August 8 to 10. He knows what he is talking about: a member of the prestigious “Cirque du Soleil”, his reflection on the future of high diving says much about the recent evolution of the discipline.

The evolution has been amazing. In a mere 12-month period, this discipline has evolved from a small group of ‘extreme’ crazy athletes to a sport that has found its place among the aquatic disciplines under the FINA umbrella. In the last days of July 2013, on three hot afternoons in Barcelona (ESP), the world and the aquatic family were able to get acquainted with it. Not on paper, nor in the images from the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, but at FINA’s major event, the World Championships. In the port of the Catalan capital, looking at the serene waters of the Mediterranean, 13 men and six women played their role: pioneers at FINA level of a staggering sport. Presentations were officially made, FINA had found its sixth aquatic discipline.

David Colturi (USA) at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Inis Mor, Aran Islands (IRL) 2014 - credit: Romina Amato/Red Bull Cliff Diving

World Cup in Kazan

Joining the “club” of the annual “Big 5” (Swimming World Cup, Water Polo World League, Diving World Series, 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup and Synchro World Trophy), it was decided to launch a yearly edition of the High Diving World Cup. The first edition is scheduled in Kazan (RUS), host of the 2015 FINA World Championships. With a breath-taking background – the Kremlin of the capital of Tatarstan – 26 men and eight women will fight for their place at the top of the world hierarchy. If, among women, the growth compared with the 2013 FINA World Championships is still modest (six to eight), in the men’s field the evolution is simply incredible (13 to 26, twice as many).

David Colturi, a former 10m platform US pool diver who was absent from Barcelona, explains: “We now have a record number of high divers around the world from so many diverse countries, and the increased media exposure has taken cliff diving into newspapers, televisions and computers of fans across the globe.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, Alain Kohl is the biggest hope for a European country not so used to shining in international waters: Luxembourg. “Being integrated in an international federation will help us to gain more respect. And hopefully someday it will become Olympic,” says 31-year-old Kohl.

Alain Kohl (LUX) at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in La Rochelle (FRA) 2013
- credit: Vincent Curutchet/Red Bull Content Pool

Boosting the sport even further

We are still not there – Olympic recognition – but many high divers keep this secret hope alive. Gary Hunt, silver medallist in Barcelona, leaves the door open to this possibility:

“I think eventually it will become an Olympic sport but it is a long process. I hope to be still in the sport when this happens,” the English diver said.

His biggest rival, Colombian Orlando Duque, the first world champion, shares this general optimism: “I believe that national federations are more interested now and that is going to make the sport grow even more. Also the media is more interested. I’ve been surprised a few times in some places where people have been following us on TV,” Duque said. At almost 40, Duque will be the oldest competitor in Kazan but still one of the main men to watch.

“I want to win, for sure. I would like to be the winner of the 1st FINA High Diving World Cup. I know it’s going to be tough but I have what it takes to win,” he said.

Orlando Duque (COL) during the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Kragero (NOR) 2014 - credit: Dean Treml/Red Bull Cliff Diving

Steve LoBue (USA) was in the list of pioneers in Barcelona, where he finished ninth. His reflection takes us to new milestones in the development of high diving. “Now that FINA has accepted high diving as a sport we will start to see some training facilities put into place which should boost the sport even further. Hopefully with some training facilities we will also start to see some grassroots programmes and increased popularity,” said LoBue.

Grassroots. Until a couple of years ago, a sport labelled “extreme” - and now someone suggesting a grassroots programme to intensify the worldwide progress of high diving. Things are definitively evolving fast in this discipline, composed of athletes who also perform quickly and take a mere 3.5 seconds from the edge of the 27m-board to the entry in the water, at almost 90kph.

Gary Hunt (R) and Steven LoBue (L) hug each other during the divers presentation at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Inis Mor, Aran Islands (IRL) 2014
- credit: Romina Amato/Red Bull Cliff Diving

More TV, increased popularity

Among women, the enthusiasm is also present. In Barcelona, top positions went to Americans Cesilie Carlton (gold) and Ginger Huber (silver). Now their team-mate Rachelle Simpson will also make the trip to Kazan for her first international competition at this level. The fourth US diver in action in Russia will be Tara Hyer (fifth at the 2013 FINA World Championships).

“For the women's event, there are many new, strong competitors from a variety of diverse countries and geographies. In addition, the dives that women perform are more impressive by the day; even in the last year, we have seen so many new, exciting, and more difficult dives from the women,” Hyer says.

Experienced Anna Bader from Germany, bronze medallist in 2013, says it all in just a few words: “It’s simply the coolest and purest sport on earth!”

Anna Bader (GER) at the FINA World Championships 2013 in Barcelona (ESP) - credit: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

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