Hunt blows away competition

70,000 spectators, winds up to 60kph and 12 athletes competitive to the core – La Rochelle added a few more superlatives to its collection during the 4th stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, while Gary Hunt (GBR) lead the dozen of high divers who defied the harsh conditions in the early evening hours on Saturday, June 18.
Friday prevented take-off from the 27.5m platform and thus the competition was decided in three rounds.

The venue in the Bay of Biscay staged the midway stop of the 2011 edition, presented a new face on the podium – Alain Kohl from Luxembourg made his first appearance in the top three and followed Michal Navratil in third place – and stirred up the overall standings. Reigning champion Hunt pulls further ahead in the overall rankings and leads the Series into the second half.

Yes or no. Possible or not. The uncertainty of whether a safe competition could be accomplished in these weather conditions lasted right up until the church bell rang at 7pm. More than once the athletes had to step back from their dives due to strong winds which challenged them to perform to their most professional level. The one who dealt best with the situation was the same man who took the victory here last year. Gary Hunt played out all his routine and finished almost 70 points ahead of his nearest hunter. Michal Navratil (CZE) claimed a second successive podium after Greece and moved up one position, whereas Alain Kohl (LUX) was happy with his first top-three finish.

The Brit’s first statement after an emotional win: “It does get better every time! Today was particularly tough because we weren’t even sure if the competition would go ahead this morning and so it was difficult not knowing. I’m happy that everybody got through the competition and with good diving. The crowd were amazing as they always are here. I was in a good mood which is why I did the backflip on the platform and then after that I did what I had to do.”

Blake Aldridge (GBR, Wildcard)
Yeah, I’m well happy. It’s my first one and I got my new armstand off as well so I’m really happy I’ve done that. I went up after the first round and I didn’t realise that because I was in first after the first round that I would be last the next time. I was up there and had to psyche myself up. If I did the easy dive I might not have the DD to carry me through to the top six. If I did the armstand, it’s got the DD but I’ve never done it before so will I do it right… in the end I grabbed the bull by the horns and did it. I went a little bit long at the end but that’s to be expected for the first time I do the dive. It’s my first Red Bull competition and my first competition from this height and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ll be back! It’s great to see Gary (Hunt) on top form. His last dive was phenomenal.

The 27-year-old has pulled ahead in the overall standings and goes into the second half of the 2011 season with a margin of 22 points. Besides the leader, almost everybody changed their overall position, although positions three to six remain separated by only ten points. Czech diver Michal Navratil (47 pts) succeeds Orlando Duque – the Colombian is still recovering from a broken ankle – in second place and Slava Polyeshchuk (44 pts) represents Ukraine in position three. As today’s competition has shown, a lot can happen in one stop and the remaining three leave much space for another shake-up in the standings.

Not only do the winners earn a trophy; the enthusiastic French fans also deserve a special award: At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the port was already starting to get crowded. Everyone wanted to secure the best possible view of the St. Nicolas Tower. At the start of the competition at 7pm, a 70,000-strong crowd cheered the high diving elite to outstanding performances in maybe the most challenging competition in the World Series to date. Not even a downpour in the afternoon and heavy winds could dampen the biggest ever crowd. ‘La Grande Nation’ saw a thrilling fight between countryman Cyrille Oumedjkane and his competitors off the 700-year-old former defence tower.