High diving has taken the plunge into the sports mainstream.
Thousands of people turned out Monday to watch 14 competitors descend from the height of a nine-story building into Barcelona’s harbor in the first two rounds of the inaugural men’s high diving final at the swimming world championships.
Cliff diving great Orlando Duque totaled the day’s best score of 217.10 points after a pair of tumbling plummets from 88 feet that ended with a loud splash as he jackknifed into the green water.
After a moment of suspense, the 38-year-old Colombian bobbed to the surface, flashed a smile and gestured OK with both hands to ignite the cheers of the crowd amassed along the shore and fleet of sailboats.
"Winning a medal would be awesome, but winning the first one … you would always be remembered," Duque said. "It would be quite an honor."
The final continues Wednesday with three more rounds of dives off the temporary scaffold platform erected in Barcelona’s old harbor, near where the famous "Las Ramblas" street meets the Mediterranean Sea.
Artem Silchenko of Russia is second with 215.95 points, followed by Jonathan Paredes of Mexico with 213.30. Three-time defending Red Bull series champion Gary Hunt was fourth with 213.
The women will dive from a platform of 20 meters in Tuesday’s one-day final.
Hunt said it was "great" that high diving had finally become part of the world championships.
"It’s been a long time since we started talking about this sport being part of a big event, and it’s great to be a part of it," Hunt said. "After the first day, the crowd was packed. I think it went well. I am happy with my dives and very much looking forward to the day after tomorrow."
High diving appears to require a measure of bravery, lunacy — or both, depending on who you ask.
China’s Qiu Bo won his second world title Sunday in the men’s 10-meter platform, the highest pool dive. He had no plans to go any higher.
"No, I am not going to try it," Qiu said. "But I’m definitely going to watch it. I think it’s amazing. It takes a lot of courage."
Qiu was not alone. Several members of the United States diving team turned out to support American high divers Steve Lobue and Kent De Mond — and none professed a desire to try the greater height.
Scuba divers waited below the platform, submerging as the divers broke the surface in case they needed help.
No divers did and no one was hurt in an event that can cause injury if a diver fails to enter the water at a straight angle, feet first and with arms tight against the body.
The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, with its disc jockeys and party atmosphere, has more of a surfing vibe. The high diving at the worlds is more subdued and largely silent, like the pool diving.
"Things are a little more official here," Hunt said. "Everything is taken very seriously. You have to be in the right place at the right time and go to presentations and things like that. But competition-wise, it’s the same."
The world swimming federation approved high diving as a full medal event only five months ago, hoping to tap into the success of the established Red Bull series that can draw thousands of spectators.
And judging from the amount of people who ignored Barcelona’s multiple attractions to watch the show, it was mission accomplished.