Red Bull Cliff Diving Series 2022 wraps up in Sydney Harbor as Rhiannan Iffland wins sixth consecutive title

It takes cliff divers a second to go from 80 km/h in the air to zero just below the surface of the water. World champion Rhiannan Iffland is still searching for that feeling, writes ADAM PEACOCK.

Certainty is a virtue that most athletes need.

Rugby league. Cannot hold back when bumping into others. AFL, don’t blink when backing into a pack. UFC. No hiding in a cage.

The consequences usually involve an ambulance.

And there is cliff diving. Another level, literally.

Fearless acrobats stand 20 meters above the surface of the earth and jump. They twist, tumble and feet forward, at 80 km/h, crash into a mass of water which violently and silently stops the pull of gravity.

For mere mortals, who generally represent 99.999999% of the population, the question is simple. Why?

Rhiannan Iffland doesn’t know why. There is a risk. But there is beauty. There may be pain. Still, there’s an unrelated adrenaline rush.

Rhiannan, or Rhi as the bubbly Novocastrian is known to all, is the best cliff diver in the world. She just won her sixth World Series. From her early days as an energetic kid, to jumping from the springboard at the local pool to the world’s most intimidating dives, she’s mastered it all.

Is she superhuman?

Not really.

“I’ve been diving for 20 years now,” says Rhi, “and still shit myself!”

Good to know.

*****

Rhi is in Sydney this week for the first ever Red Bull World Series event to be held in Sydney Harbour.

Cliff diving doesn’t make bland places.

In 2022, Rhi jumped from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Seine in Paris, Lake Lucerne in Switzerland and the famous Mostar Bridge in Bosnia. The Balkan landmark built in medieval times is a particularly scary leap.

“The most intimidating place to dive,” says Rhi. “The river is narrow, the water is cold.”

The fear is still present, but Rhi has found a way to fade it into the background as she stands ready to jump, 20 meters above her landing spot.

“I love the beauty, grace and style of diving. Combine the places we go and the art of the sport, it’s just amazing.

*****

Rhi discovered cliff diving by accident.

Growing up in Lake Macquarie, NSW was all about the great outdoors. Surfing, swimming, finding rocks to dive. His main competitive sports were diving and trampoline.

She would become a national-level diver, off the three-meter board or 10-meter platform. Bold enough, but it didn’t pay the bills. She signed up to join the police, but that career ended before it began when she found a way to get on a Caribbean cruise ship performing in an aquatic theater. As you do.

One thing leads to another.

“A few guys I worked with on the ship mentioned that I would be good at high diving,” says Rhi.

“Of course I will try.”

So Rhi rocked Abu Dhabi in early 2016, and, well, bombed.

Remember feeling like I couldn’t string a sentence together,” Rhi recalls standing on the 20m platform for the first time.

She could barely speak after the dive too, slamming through the water at 80 km/h “short”, which left her head exposed to the liquid concrete.

“Took a punch, got knocked out by the security team,” Rhi recalled.

“When I hit the water, I thought, ‘I hope mom wasn’t watching the live stream. She was!”

Rhi thought that was it for his high diving feats. Do. More. Back to the cruise ship, or maybe to that police request. Still, the Red Bull series organizers saw something.

They invited her to join them, and Rhi herself learned to deal with the fear factor quickly. Very quickly. At the end of 2016 she was the best in the world and has never looked back, winning every World Series since.

“What pulls me back is taking those risks. It’s an attraction.”

*****

The danger in diving, whether from the lowest springboard of the local pool to the highest platform of the cliff dive, is not the end, nor the middle.

“The better the takeoff, the better the entry,” says Rhi.

“Excessive rotation or poor entry always comes from takeoff.”

All of Rhi’s attention is on the tiny technical details at launch. The rest just flows.

Much like a marathon runner, the cliff diver cannot replicate competitive conditions too often. Jumps are perfected at lower heights. Rhi does much of his work in the Austrian Alps at a place called Area 47, where jump heights range from three meters to 27.

“It’s a risky sport, you do everything you can to mitigate those risks,” says Rhi.

Using the earth’s gravitational pull to show off is one thing, but hitting the water is another.

“You hit the water at 75-80 km/h,” says Rhi. “So taking that impact time and time again, has an impact. I wake up after jumping full height and there are muscles that I didn’t know I had that are sore.

All the prep work prepares her for the competition, where the events take place over two days. There are one or two training jumps, then four competition dives.

The adrenaline is pumping for these four dives, as thousands of people line the shore, hoping for their main thrill.

And through it all, one second stands out. The scientific composition of water means that it takes divers a second to go from 80 km/h in the air to zero just below the surface.

That little moment of time, Rhi says, is always amazing.

“There’s so much noise in your mind, and it’s all happening so fast in the air. I see a few things. Water, or something overtaking you, then suddenly everything goes completely silent.

“It’s like waking up in the morning.”

When Rhi pops his head above water, the judges are invariably impressed. Nine and 10 at all levels. No one can approach her at the top. She attributes it to a special connection between mind and body.

“Always trying to figure it out. I always reduce the results to a feeling, when I’m in competition. Trying to feel invigorated, to feel alive.

*****

Rhi recently claimed his sixth consecutive Red Bull World Series title, winning at Polignano a Mare on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy’s boot.

Divers jump from an incredibly perched residential building on top of a rock face. Once competitors jump in and out of the water. They walk down the cobblestone streets in their Speedos, pass those enjoying a good espresso or a nicer Aperol in the late summer sun, and back into the building to start all over again.

Rhi’s victory was her 29th in the last 36 events and with another world title won, Rhi is back home this weekend, plunging into Sydney Harbor from a platform built to perfectly frame the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.

Rhi’s excitement comes from all the loved ones who come to watch, including her sister’s family who travel from a WA cattle station to watch the family daredevil do her thing.

This week has already provided a huge adrenaline rush, when Rhi jumped from a helicopter in Sydney Harbour.

It was the latest in a nice repertoire of unique stunts, from jumping off a hot air balloon in the Hunter Valley to jumping off a ledge inside a Romanian salt mine.

There are many more options for Rhi to get her adrenaline fix, both in competition, where she plans to increase her difficulty level next year, and in her free time.

“I would love to go diving in the Kimberleys,” she says.

“Bruny Island in Tasmania. And there’s one more that I can’t say.

She smiled shyly, looking like she couldn’t keep a secret. Eventually, she can’t.

“Under the Northern Lights,” she smiles.

At this rate, nothing can stop him.

Starting out as a caddy, Adam spent nearly a decade at the Seven Network, before a 15-year stint at Fox Sports covering football, tennis, cricket, the Olympics and jousting. Favorite teams are Socceroos, Matildas, Newcastle Utd, Manly while hobbies include watching sports, eating food, sleeping and waking up to do the same.

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