It's been a long time coming, but the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series finally returns this weekend after the longest hiatus in the sport's history. 12 men and 12 women have arrived in Saint-Raphaël, France ahead of the first stop of the 2021 season, where the beautiful rocks of Cap Dramont will serve as a stunning location for the opening dives of the season.
Before competition gets underway on Friday, the giddy athletes took the opportunity to shake off any lingering rust with a few practice dives into the perfectly calm and flat Mediterranean waters. Ignoring competitive instinct for a moment, the simple joy of diving again was the overriding emotion among them.
"It was an amazing feeling to be standing back up there on the platform," said four-time women's champion Rhiannan Iffland. "The diving spot's amazing, a really great place to kick off the 2021 season."
Romanian wildcard Catalin Preda was in an equally buoyant mood: "It felt like it's been more than 21 months. It was devastating when we got the news last year, but here we are now and I'm loving it. Training felt good, the muscles in the body remembered really quickly and I can't be happier."
For Brazil's Jaki Valente, the sensation of freedom that comes with launching from great heights was felt even more acutely following her mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine: "That was interesting and challenging, and I was the only one who experienced that. I did four dives today and it felt very good. I took today more as fun and just shaking off the body."
For Gary Hunt, who this weekend will represent France for the first time, it was pleasing just to experience that camaraderie that comes with competition:
"It's great to be back diving again and in a location like this," said the eight-time champion following his training dives. "The best thing is just being around the high diving community, being able to share your thoughts with like-minded people and be around the cliff diving family again."
While the men have competed in France seven times before, this is the first appearance for the women in this country.