Elite athletes dive to new heights in Cliff Diving World Series at Boston’s ICA

The international contingent of divers, including the women’s and men’s defending world champions, jumped, twirled, and twisted off of two boards looming at 89 feet for the men and 69 feet for the women above the harbor in front of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Their feats seem to defy the laws of physics and physiology.

Men’s divers at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at the Institute of Contemporary Art.Barry Chin / Globe Staff

“Maybe I’d do it with adequate training,” said Lauren Dishong, 33, looking up at the high dive.

“I wouldn’t even do it with the training,” her husband, Bryan Dishong, 39, chimed in. “Not a chance.”

Iya, the Salem family’s 5-year-old, concurred, shaking her head no.

Not so for Jason Jaroslavsky, a 26-year-old Seaport resident.

“It’d be great to have some normal person like me up there to show how amazing these people are,” he said.

For the professional athletes, the question of whether they would do it has long been answered. The question they were facing under Saturday’s clear blue skies and sun was whether they could do it.

And the stakes were high.

Meili Carpenter of the USA competing in the women’s Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at the Institute of Contemporary Art.Barry Chin / Globe Staff

The Cliff Diving World Series, currently in its 13th installment, was launched Saturday in Boston, the only US stop, before it continues to locales around Europe over the summer and culminates in Sydney Harbor in Australia in October.

“I think the first event is really, really important for divers because it sort of sets the scene for the year,” said Owen Weymouth, a British cliff diver who did not compete Saturday, but will later in the series. “If you can come out and be one of the front-runners at the first event I would say you just have a massive mental advantage for the rest of the season.”

After the first two rounds took place on Friday, the world series’ sole American competitor, Eleanor “Ellie” Smart, 26, of Minnesota, was back in sixth. But it was a tight pack at the top, Weymouth, 23, who is engaged to Smart, said before the Saturday competition began.

Smart was planning to perform the most challenging dive she’s ever attempted in competition: a handstand twisting dive, which she would eventually execute successfully.

“Ellie is feeling a good combination of fear and excitement I think,” Weymouth said. “A perfect balance.”

On the men’s side, a changing of the guard was in the offing.

“For the last decade, Gary has been almost untouchable,” said Weymouth, referring to Gary Hunt, a Franco-British diver who is a legend in cliff diving. Hunt is a nine-time world champion and the reigning title holder.

But on Saturday, a newcomer was vying to topple the king.

At just 20, Brit Aidan Heslop is shaking up the cliff diving world, and at the start of Saturday, he was in second, ahead of Hunt. “He’s the young gun,” Weymouth said.

Going from a spectator wondering whether you would cliff jump from 11 stories up to actually doing it is a long climb. But Maria Smirnova, a Lincoln, Mass., Resident who aspires to join the series in the future, was attempting it.

Aidan Heslop competes in the men’s Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at the Institute of Contemporary Art.Barry Chin / Globe Staff

The 26-year-old Needham High and University of Rhode Island graduate dove in college and started jumping off radio towers into 9-foot pools after college as part of a traveling act.

“It took me about three months to get the courage to climb up the tower,” she said. But it’s 90 percent mental, she said. Slowly working her way higher, she conquered that fear. “I can not say it was easy. There were a lot of crashes. There were a lot of tears. ”

On Tuesday she found out she would be one of the eight “wildcard” divers in Boston. Wildcards are invited to participate at one of the world series’ stops, but not the whole tour.

Walking out onto the board Saturday, some divers pumped up the crowd, while others did the sign of the cross. Then a bell rang and a silence fell over the hundreds of spectators gathered around the ICA. For a few seconds, the divers stood motionless on the edge of the board.

“There’s no past. There’s no future, ”Smirnova said. “You are literally in the moment.”

That moment came for Heslop in his last dive, the last of the day. By then, it was just Heslop and Hunt in the running. Hunt had just pulled off a near-perfect performance, and Heslop needed to top it. And he did.

As the scores came out, Hunt smiled, still in the water after his dive. Heslop had won. Hunt had been beaten but not defeated.

“I’ve always looked up to him,” the newcomer said of Hunt, who is just shy of his 39th birthday.

Earlier that day, Smart faced her moment too. She calmly walked to the edge of the diving board. The Red Bull organizers had outfitted some of the competitors with heart rate monitors, and Smart’s was barely breaking 100 beats per minute. “She’s like ice,” the announcer proclaimed.

Smart gave a thumbs up. She worked herself into a handstand and not a moment later pushed off. It’s the handstand twisting dive she worried about – the one she’s never tried before.

CEO flew through the air twirling and contorting for what seemed like an eternity, then slipped into the water with barely a splash.

In the end, it was not quite enough to get her on the podium; she came fourth. Canada’s Molly Carlson and the Australian reigning world champion Rhiannan Iffland took the top two spots.

But looking at, Weymouth answered the question of whether his fiancée could master that tough dive. “She nailed it,” he said.


Alexander Thompson can be reached at alexander.thomppson@globe.com

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