Breathtaking 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving opener at Palawan Island in Philippines.

Reigning champions Gary Hunt and Rhiannan Iffland showed they are in no mood to give up their Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series crowns as they won the 2019 opener at the new, stunning El Nido stop at Palawan Island in the Philippines.

Briton Hunt claimed his seventh title in 2018 and Australian Iffland her third in a row, however, they had to fight back to win after Friday’s opening two rounds. Hunt found himself in fourth behind 2017 champion Jonathan Paredes of Mexico, while Iffland trailed Yana Nestsiarava of Belarus and American Ginger Huber.

Once the action moved from the emerald green waters of the small lagoon to the big lagoon on Saturday, though, the guile and experience of the defending champions saw them move up the final standings in the 11th year of diving’s most dramatic competition.

New permanent diver Constantin Popovici produced a brilliant final armstand dive to secure himself a classy second place with Hunt pulling out a superb final dive from 27m up to put the pressure on leader Paredes, who failed to secure a clean entry as he finished in third.

After his fifth straight win, Hunt, 34, said: “I knew it was going to be tough. Constantin pushed me right until the edge and that’s been like that for a couple of competitions now. I don’t want to be just on my own. It’s more fun when it’s a fight. Wonderful location. When you think of cliff diving you think of a place like this.”

Iffland did just enough from the 21m platform to hold off Nestsiarava with Canadian Lysanne Richard beating new British permanent diver Jessica Macaulay to third. Iffland, 27, added: “Super happy and a bit surprised. I was standing up there and thought the win is a bit out of my reach, but I do like that extra bit of pressure. Some say it’s not easy, but I actually really enjoy diving off the cliffs. I love being out in nature and I love the extra adrenaline you get standing up on the cliffs.”

In this remote location, the divers kayaked, rock-climbed and traversed ladders before they even reached their take-off positions above the lagoons full of coral and fish.

After winning the final four stops last year, 7-time champion Gary Hunt began this season where he left off – the brilliant Brit is unbeaten in five competitions across seasons. In El Nido’s beautiful lagoons Romania’s Constantin Popovici edged the leader after three rounds, Jonathan Paredes from Mexico, out of second place in his first competition as a permanent diver from 27 metres. No surprises for the women in the season opener. Three-time champion Rhiannan Iffland got off to a flyer in this unspoilt location off the Philippines’ Palawan Island. Yana Nestsiarava from Belarus equalled her best-ever finish in second place, with Canada’s Lysanne Richardcompleting the podium.

With a pair of 10s for Paredes’ first dive of the season, the Mexican launched immaculately from the rocky off-the-cliffs spots above emerald green lagoon waters, taking the lead into round four. However, it was in this final round when Popovici’s impressive armstand dive earned the Romanian the high score of the day and his first ever World Series podium, just 1.35 points ahead of Mexico’s style master. It was record winner Hunt, though, who nailed his final dive to stay unbeaten with his dive list for a fifth time.

Over to the women’s and Iffland, the sport’s most decorated female athlete, surprised herself by winning for the 12th time in 18 events. Sitting in third after two rounds from the rocky launchpads in the Small Lagoon, the 27-year-old showed no nerves with the best dive in the final round to keep her contenders in check and continue her winning form from 21 metres. Under the scorching Philippines sun, it was Belarusian Nestsiarava, the surprise leader before making the way over to the platforms for the more complex dives, who came closest to the Australian. Canada’s Richard, at 37 the most experienced permanent diver in the women’s, secured 3rd place to make it 10 career podiums.

â`“’Í2cÊIÿÙAn overview of the Big (L) and Small Lagoons at Miniloc Island during the final competition day of the first stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Palawan, Philippines on Apri

In this, the remotest of locations, the divers were tasked with kayaking, rock-climbing and traversing ladders before they even reached their take-off positions. Once on their platform the phenomenal views across the lagoons were certainly worth the effort.

Untouched limestone formations, natural colours, coral and fish were the stunning scenery as the world’s best cliff divers kicked off the new season in paradise with a display of diving grace. From here they move on to chillier waters in Dublin, Ireland for the second new stop on the calendar in a month’s time.

Men’s El Nido result:
1. Gary Hunt GBR – 427.25pts
2. Constantin Popovici ROU – 409.40
3. Jonathan Paredes MEX – 408.05
4. Kris Kolanus POL – 380.10
5. Steven LoBue USA – 365.60
6. David Colturi USA – 362.50
7. Andy Jones USA – 354.40
8. Blake Aldridge GBR – 350.50
9. Michal Navratil CZE – 330.90
10. Orlando Duque (W) COL – 309.60
11. Oleksiy Prygorov UKR – 308.35
12. Nikita Fedotov (W) RUS – 306.05
13. Sergio Guzman (W) MEX – 262.50
14. Alessandro De Rose (W) ITA – 259.65

Men’s standings (after 1 of 7 stops)
1. Gary Hunt GBR – 200pts
2. Constantin Popovici ROU – 160
3. Jonathan Paredes MEX – 130
4. Kris Kolanus POL – 110
5. Steven LoBue USA – 90
6. David Colturi USA – 70
7. Andy Jones USA – 60
8. Blake Aldridge GBR – 50
9. Michal Navratil CZE – 40
10. Orlando Duque (W) COL – 30
11. Oleksiy Prygorov UKR – 20
12. Nikita Fedotov (W) RUS – 10
13. Sergio Guzman (W) MEX – 9
14. Alessandro De Rose (W) ITA – 8

Women’s El Nido result:
1. Rhiannan Iffland AUS – 329.25pts
2. Yana Nestsiarava BLR– 319.35
3. Lysanne Richard CAN – 309.70
4. Jessica Macaulay GBR – 304.55
5. Adriana Jimenez MEX – 292.55
6. Ginger Huber (W) USA – 249.30
7. Xantheia Pennisi (W) AUS – 209.30
8. Antonina Vyshyvanova (W) UKR – 208.65
9. Eleanor Townsend Smart USA – 179.90

Women’s standings (after 1 of 7 stops)
1. Rhiannan Iffland AUS – 200pts
2. Yana Nestsiarava BLR– 319.35
3. Lysanne Richard CAN – 309.70
4. Jessica Macaulay GBR – 304.55
5. Adriana Jimenez MEX – 292.55
6. Ginger Huber (W) USA – 249.30
7. Xantheia Pennisi (W) AUS – 209.30
8. Antonina Vyshyvanova (W) UKR – 208.65
9. Eleanor Townsend Smart USA – 179.90

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