Postcards from the edge

lifestyle November 01, 2013 00:00


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Russia's Artem Silchenko is Red Bull's man when it comes to diving from the karst cliffs of Krabi

KRABI’S IMPRESSIVE KARST escarpments echoed with the sound of cheers and applause last weekend as young Russian Artem Silchenko completed a perfect dive to take the title in the Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series 2013.

Silchenko, 29, beat three-time winner Gary Hunt from England and nine-time world champion Orlando Duque from Colombia, who took second and third place respectively.

“I can’t believe it – at this moment it is pure emotion and there is nothing really you can say,” Silchenko said after the award ceremony.

“I’m starting to understand that I’m the best high diver for 2013 and that has always been my dream. Now I have it! It was a beautiful dive, close to my best ever, and I could feel it under the water. I started diving in 2006 and I’ve come a long way! This is my fifth season in the World Series and I have been training and working hard for this moment.”

Five international judges judge each dive on the criteria of take-off, position in the air and entry into the water and

 award scores from 0 to 10. The degree of difficulty is evaluated on take-off, numbers of somersaults, number of twists, position during the somersaults and entry to the water. There’s no equipment involved, just gravity.

The Russian’s first World Series title was secured in sensational style last Saturday with the last 27-metre cliff dive of the 2013 season – a back arm stand with two and a half twists, two and a half somersaults, and a blind entry. Standing on the edge of the platform knowing that he was just a three-second dive away from victory, Silchenko was pure focus as he took off, smashing through the water and then emerging, fists raised, to 9s and 10s from the judges.

After six competitions in Europe and North America, 14 of the world’s best cliff diving athletes were in Asia to showcase their sport during eight dives in four unique locations into the translucent turquoise waters off the Phi Phi Islands and Hong Island. The 1,400 spectators, both on boats and in the water, were left in awe when the divers hit the water at 85 kilometres per hour after three seconds of aesthetic freefall.

The season’s competition started in La Rochelle on the west coast of France in May, then travelled to stunning dive sites in Denmark, Portugal, Italy, the UK, the US and Brazil before the final showdown in Krabi, with Thailand’s idyllic islands providing the perfect backdrop for a grand finale. The athletes were challenged to perform their difficult manoeuvres directly off the cliffs as well as from platforms almost three times the Olympic height into the Andaman Sea.

Cliff diving is actually an ancient sport, with its origins dating back to the 1700s in Kaunolu on the south western part of Hawaii as an initiation rite for warriors. The world’s earliest recorded cliff diving contest was probably organized in the 19 century by the Hawaiian king, Kamehameha. It was put together with defined rules to determine the best and bravest athletes. The sport of diving made its debut at the 1904 Olympic Games held in St. Louis, and has since grown in popularity. Cliff diving, or high diving, soon branched out. It usually takes place outdoor at 26 to 28 meters height.

“You have to be a very experienced diver to participate in cliff diving,” Hawaii-based Colombian diver Orlando Duque told us. “I started off as a platform diver and learned to control my body for 10 years before becoming a cliff diver. The challenge is bigger and the risk is also greater when you dive from a cliff, but since we are all very experienced, accidents and injuries rarely happen. The worst case, if you crash land or do what’s known as the “pancake landing”, can be very painful and you might risk internal bleeding. It’s almost like landing from 13 meters on concrete.”

Duque considers himself lucky, having broken his tailbone once in his illustrious, long career as a professional cliff diver. Apart from world-class accolades, the 39-year-old diver is also the holder the world’s highest scored dive ever for his double back summersault with four twists from 24 metres that earned a perfect 10 from all seven judges in Hawaii, 2000.

Only the top eight from the 2013 rankings qualify automatically for next year, with the two other athletes making up the permanent line-up for 2014 to be nominated by the World Series’ sports department by the end of the year. The calendar for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2014 is announced at the same time.