• Photo By Kyle Borne
    A male diver makes an attempt.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    A diver makes a frontal dive from 92 feet at Possum Kingdom.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    Spectators line the water front on Saturday.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    Divers are introduced on the platform above Hell's Gate.
  • Photo by Kyle Borne
    Over 12,000 spectators came out to Possum Kingdom to watch the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Hell's Gate.

Cliff Diving at Hell's Gate comes down to the wire

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series thrills spectators

The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series kicked off the 2016 circuit with a very competitive stop at Possum Kingdom Lake. The qualifying rounds were held on Friday afternoon, and the championship rounds were held on Saturday. The rain in the area held off just in time for Saturday’s exciting competition to come to a conclusion.

The men and women’s competition went down to the wire on Saturday. On the women’s side, there was a new winner crowned at Hell’s Gate. Two-time defending champion Rachelle Simpson was not able to defend her title this year in Texas. Simpson had a solid dive on Saturday but struggled a little on Friday.

The women’s champion was not a regular on the circuit, but instead one of the two wild cards competing at the Texas stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Rhiannan Iffland of Australia took the women’s championship at Hell’s Gate. Her overall score was 251.50.

Second place was American Cesilie Carlton, who scored 241.10 points for the weekend. Carlton finished third in the standings in 2015 and currently resides in San Antonio. She has been on the circuit since 2014.

The competition was intense in 2016, and Carlton was stoked to come away with a podium finish.

“The competition was amazing. There were girls ripping one dive after another,” Carlton said. “I was 10 points down going into the final round. I was really really happy with the dive that I did. I will take second. I haven’t been practicing too much, so to come out with second place, I am going to go up from there.”

The competition continues to strengthen for the women. The 2016 stop at Hell’s Gate was the first time Simpson has not won the women’s competition in Texas.

“Everybody has good and bad competitions,” Carlton said. “The girls are so close in every competition. I think coming into the last round there was like five of us that were within a couple points together. So, you have good ones and you have bad ones.”

The local crowds and fantastic weather helped propel Carlton to success on Saturday.

“The crowds were amazing. The weather was so great. I’m happy,” Carlton said. “It was a little rainy the first day of training. They had to cut the training short, so it ended it up a beautiful day.”

Helena Merten took the last podium spot on Saturday and finished third. Merten is a tour regular for the first time in 2016. As a wild card in 2015, Merten finished sixth in Texas. She is also the youngest ever permanent athlete in the World series. Merten is only 21 years old.

Merten is another Australian athlete, and with her third place finish the Australians are off to a great start in the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The women’s overall champion could come from anyone in 2016, and the Possum Kingdom stop appears to have gotten the 2016 season off to a great start.

The men’s competition was very close. It took up until the last diver in the championship round to have any idea who would come out on top. Jonathan Paredes, the event’s winner, needed practically all 10s to take the victory away from Great Britain’s Blake Aldridge. Paredes executed,  and the crowd on hand went wild as he took the men’s title at the very end of the competition.

Paredes, of Mexico, took the title at Hell’s Gate with an overall score of 509.15. Aldridge finished second with a score of 495.85, and Michal Navratil from the Czech Republic completed the podium with 495.50 points and a third place finish.

Gary Hunt, the defending champion from Great Britain, attempted a spectacular final dive and finished fourth with 486 total points. The never-before-attempted double-in double-out front triple somersault with four and a half twists amazed the crowd, but it wasn’t quite enough to win. Alessandro De Rose, the wild card from Italy, wowed the crowd, as well. He finished fifth with 482.70 points. 

The podium finishers at Hell’s Gate will grab the momentum heading into the rest of the 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. 

There was no one more thrilled to be on the podium and seize that momentum than Aldridge.

“Every year, the standard is getting higher and higher and it’s a great group of guys to be working with. Today was real close and we changed up the format with Red Bull, and it just makes for a more competitive competition, which is how it should be,” Aldridge said. “I’ve come second today in the first event of the season, and I am really happy. I had some challenges over the Christmas period. My fiance left me. We had a miscarriage at Christmas. It’s been a pretty turbulent time, and this is keeping me sane, really. Being able to come here and train and focus on the diving has kept me in the game, really. To go through all of that, and keep a level head and get on the podium at the first event, you know it proves that what I am doing is right, and it makes it even more special. I have never been as emotional as I was today when I did that final dive.”

Aldridge offered congratulations to Paredes and spoke on the history of their competition with each other.

“Congratulations to Johnny. He deserved it. He didn’t put a foot wrong all day, and yesterday, as well,” he said. “I took him a couple of years ago in the same sort of scenario. He dived and then I went ahead of him and took the win off of him. So, now he’s done it here a few years later. Now, we are one each and that makes for good competition and it’s healthy. I am just stoked to be on the podium and to be second, as well. First, second, third to be on the podium is a great start to the year.”

Aldridge went on to offer some insight into the mindset of the competition and what it took for him to have the kind of performance that he did on Saturday.

“The mind is an amazing thing and an amazing force. It can break you or it can make you,” he said. “Coming into the first dive today, I think I was in sixth place. There was only a few points all the way to the top, and I had one of my most consistent dives. I said to myself, ‘This is my moment, you either take your moment or lose your moment.’ So, I went in there and got straight nines on my first dive, and I went into the lead and I wound up fourth after everyone had dived. Then, I had my big dive, which used to be the hardest dive in the world until Gary (Hunt) stole that crown today. I had a little bit of trouble with that in practice because of the glare on the water. So, to get up there and to deal with that when I missed it and I got a little bit lost in practice. Then, to stand up there with all of that pressure and to perform, you feel like Superman when you can get through that in your own head, and you can do what you can do. You can do anything. The mind is a powerful thing.”

Paredes finished third on the circuit in 2015 and won at Mostar last year. Paredes has been in the World Series since 2013 and is now 26-years-old. His other achievements include finishing second at the FINA High Diving World Cup this year and last year. Paredes has steadily climbed since joining the tour and is poised for a breakout season in 2016.

Hell’s Gates third place finisher Navratil is a seven-time Czech high diving champion. He has been in the World Series since 2009 and has a high mark finish of second. He also finished third overall in 2011. Last season, Navratil competed with a torn biceps tendon from the shoulder plate down all season and still managed to finish in the top-10.

Aldridge, is an Olympian for Great Britain. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Aldridge was a finalist. He finished fourth overall in 2015 in the World Series. He has been in the World Series since 2012 and completes dives that are at higher degrees of difficulty.

Aldridge acknowledges the mental difficulty of cliff diving and what it takes to compete at the highest level.

“You always get nervous up there,” he said. “You are dealing with absolute adrenaline, and fear, and worry, and anxiousness, and it becomes an art to be able to carry all of those energies and to be able to perform. Some guys take their moment and some guys blow their moment, and today I took my moment and I am super proud of myself for doing that.”

The 2016 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series stop in Texas was a success. Over 12,000 spectators came out to Possum Kingdom Lake to enjoy the athletic thrills of cliff diving.

For fans who didn’t catch the action in person, a full length broadcast of the Texas stop premieres on FS1 on Saturday, July 9, at 11 a.m. CT and will be available shortly afterwards on Red Bull TV.

Broadcast times are subject to change, visit: 

www.foxsports.com/RedBullSports for updated info.

The Graham Leader

620 Oak Street
P.O. Box 600
Graham, Texas 76450
Phone: (940) 549-7800
Fax: (940) 228-0589