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Cliff Diving

What makes a perfect cliff dive?

The pros reveal the ingredients needed to earn those magical 10 scorecards.
Written by Chris Magill
Published on
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Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Rhiannan Iffland

AustraliaAustralia
Since 2009, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has provided a platform for aesthetic action and dives of incredible complexity from heights of up to 27m. In the past 11 years, the panel of five international judges have pulled out their scorecards more than 20,000 times, but the top score of 10 has only been flashed on 139 occasions.
In a sport where the tiniest of mistakes can be the difference between a high score and a low one, between winning and losing, and between champions and runners-up, what does it actually take for a cliff diver to hit that perfect dive and nail the magical 10?
"It's a combination of a strong take-off, style and grace in the air and then sliding through the water without any splash," says record-breaking World Series champion Rhiannan Iffland, describing the perfect dive at its most basic level.
Everything has to happen at the right time and the stars have to align
Gary Hunt
Rhiannan Iffland of Australia dives from the 21m platform on Stari Most during the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 24, 2019.
Rhiannan Iffland displays perfect form to earn four 10s in Mostar in 2019
Of course, Iffland is right, but clearly there is much more to the perfect dive than simply nailing all the basics.
"It's a lot of hard work that goes on behind that 10," says France's Gary Hunt. "Everything needs to be right at that right time. You have to build up that strength and consistency so when you do that perfect dive the judges are there. Sometimes you have to do the perfect dive a few times, because sometimes the judges might be in a bad mood and not be ready to give that 10. Everything has to happen at the right time and the stars have to align."
Artem Silchenko, the Russian winner of the 2013 World Series, once described a dive as "a million details", where just one deviation ends the prospect of a 10. While the odds may not be astronomical, for the athletes the perfect dive is almost like winning the lottery, and it's little wonder that the emotions that come with it are often overwhelming.
"It's a feeling like no other," explains Iffland. "You put all of this work into the dives individually. You spend so many days, so many hours in the pool over the years training and when it all comes together in that three seconds the feeling is just indescribable... just incredible."
And it's not just the divers who are overcome with these spellbinding emotions. While the judges are supposed to be detached, emotionless and calculating in their role, even they aren't immune to the powerful forces of a perfect dive when it washes over them.
"A perfect 10 kind of makes me want to get out of my judge's chair and run around with the crowd, because I want to give it a standing ovation," says Australian judge Steve Foley. "It's the sort of dive that moves me and you just react to it."
Constantin Popovici of Romania reacts after diving from Stari Most during the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 24, 2019.
Raw emotion from Constantin Popovici after picking up five 10s
While 2017 holds the record of being the only season so far where zero 10s were awarded, 2019 has to go down in the history books as the 'year of perfection'. Not only did Iffland earn a total of eight top notes from the judges on her way to winning all seven stops, but both Hunt and Romania's Constantin Popovici became the first two men to achieve cliff diving's holy grail – five 10s for a single dive.
With the quality and consistency of diving increasing year after year in both the men's and women's categories, it will be no surprise to see more athletes joining that exclusive perfect 10 club in the near future.
Part of this story

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Rhiannan Iffland

AustraliaAustralia