Orlando Duque just had to be the first man to be crowned high diving world champion.
However, even the 38-year-old Colombian cliff diving legend needed a wobble by main rival Gary Hunt on the last dive of Wednesday’s final to snatch the inaugural gold medal by just 0.9 points.
Duque, Hunt and the other fearless competitors plummeted three times from the equivalent of a nine-story building into the Barcelona harbor, adding the scores to their first two rounds from Monday.
When the murky green water had calmed, Duque’s 590.20 points were worth the first gold medal in a sport he has nurtured into the mainstream with 15 years of tempting fate and wowing awe-struck crowds.
“To know that when they look at the records my name will be there first is important,” Duque said. “Besides, I am the old guy of this group. I’m 38 years old and I’m jumping with guys who are 23. It was looking a little difficult after that second dive because Gary, Gary is Gary and he always nails them, but he committed a little mistake at the end. But that is the nature of the competition, someone wins, someone goes home crying.”
Hunt, the reigning three-time champion of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, finished agonizingly close with 589.30 points and had to settle for silver. Hunt’s medal was the first for Britain at these world championships.
Mexico’s Jonathan Paredes claimed bronze with 578.35.
Duque won the Red Bull series in its first edition in 2009. However, he has watched Hunt dominate it for the past three years, including seeing the series title escape in similar fashion to his victory on Wednesday on the last dive of the 2012-2013 season.
On Wednesday, Hunt appeared set to celebrate the world title after opening up a commanding 38-point lead with a very difficult — and risky — backward pike with three somersaults and four twists for a massive haul of 170.10 points. However, his angled entry on the final effort allowed Duque to grab the gold.
Thousands turned up to line the city shoreline for the “extreme” aquatic sport, enjoying its festive atmosphere and the divers’ surfer-esque swagger as they soared downwards from the temporary 27m platform.
No diver was injured in the falls that take three seconds to complete despite speeds reaching 160kph.
After breaking past the surface feet-first like a projectile, the participants bobbed up and gave the scuba divers there to ensure their safety the “OK” signal that their bodies were in one piece.
The world swimming federation approved high diving five months ago as a world championship event, hoping to tap into the popularity of the Red Bull series.
Duque called high diving’s debut at the worlds a “complete success” and praised the steps made to improve safety.
“It’s the evolution of what has been happening in recent years. Out of nowhere, now people worry about our safety, and this was the safest. [Here] we can do very difficult dives with absolutely zero problems,” he said.
As if their daring aerial acrobatics were not enough entertainment, the divers revved the spectators on the boardwalk and the nearby sailboats with their theatrical bows and fist pumps as rock and pop music pounded between each dive.
Duque, Hunt and Paredes took the medals, but fourth-place Michal Navratil claimed the unofficial title of best showman as a consolation prize.
With the competition over, the Czech diver donned a red cape, climbed the tower’s 200 steps, and launched himself with his fist jutting forward in a Superman pose to put a fitting end to high diving’s plunge into the sporting mainstream.