Diving rebels aim for global appeal

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Diving rebels aim for global appeal

KAZAN, Russia - In the world of diving, they’re the rebels and free spirits.

Instead of using a board over a pool, high divers compete outdoors, leaping from 27 meters (88.5 feet) in a sport that developed from daredevil jumps off cliffs. Twisting and somersaulting in the air, they fall so fast that the water can cause serious injury if the landing goes wrong.

High diving’s popularity is growing, but with that comes challenges. As they bid for a place in the Olympic spotlight, the rebels are becoming part of the establishment, but they say they won’t lose their identity.

“We’re definitely the divers who want to play around and do their own thing,” said Britain’s Gary Hunt, who started off in the more regimented world of the pool before becoming one of high diving’s biggest names. “If you just listen to what your coach tells you to do, you will never learn the skills to become a cliff diver or a high diver. You have to want to play around on your own, so you get playful personalities.”

Hunt is the favorite to win a gold medal Wednesday in high diving’s second appearance at the world aquatics championships, where it rubs shoulders with swimming and traditional diving on the program.

With a huge dive boasting three somersaults and four twists, Hunt has a solid lead after the first three rounds of competition Monday, in which he scored 381.10 points from the judges. With two rounds to go Wednesday, that puts him 22.70 ahead of second-place American David Colturi. Third is Jonathan Paredes of Mexico on 350.40.

Recent years have seen a flood of extreme sports join the Olympic program, and high divers hope to be next. High diving is constantly evolving and Hunt has been at the forefront of the change, introducing new dives in much the same way that snowboarders like U.S. star Shaun White demonstrate new and bigger tricks.

“There is a massive potential for high diving because we have so much space in the air,” Hunt says.

“We’ve only started to have so many events so you’re seeing bigger and bigger dives every competition and we still haven’t even come close to the limits.”

High diving won’t be on the program for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but the 2020 games in Tokyo are the target for Hunt and others.

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