Gary Hunt put on a performance when it really mattered and showed why he’s the world champion by taking gold in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
After dominating the first day of the FINA High Diving World Cup on Saturday, the Briton continued that form with two impressive dives.
That saw the 31-year-old sit top of the standings ahead of his final round.
He was under more pressure given his nearest rivals Jonathan Paredes and 2014 champion Orlando Duque overtook him, having taken their last jumps.
But Hunt remained calm from 27 metres high and his sequence of three forward somersaults and three-and-a-half twists was enough to seal his first World Cup triumph with a total of 639.30 points, 60.60 ahead of runner-up Paredes.
“It feels absolutely great to win the gold medal,” said Hunt.
“In the last two World Cups, I finished second and fourth so it’s an amazing feeling to finish first.
“To be honest, I was very nervous. I made a mistake in my fourth dive and I didn’t want that to happen again.
“But I stayed strong and believed in myself and luckily I pulled it off.
“It’s definitely a different feeling after I won gold in the World Championships in Kazan. This time around I was stronger and more confident.”
Given he was the last man to dive, Hunt knew what was required. But he didn’t pay too much attention to the other competitors, rather focusing on his own game.
“When I’m doing these competitions, I don’t really think about the other divers,” he said.
“They are the best in the world but it’s an individual sport.
“When you’re at the end of that platform, you’re not thinking about the rivals, but more about what you’re looking to do”.
Hunt will now be looking to keep the momentum going when he competes in the Red Bull Series opener in Texas in June.
For Paredes, it was exactly the same position he finished after the first two rounds on Saturday.
But the 26-year-old had no complaints about being defeated.
“Gary was the man to be beat going into the final rounds and he’s definitely a worthy champion,” said the Madrid resident.
“But saying that, I’m extremely happy how I did throughout the whole tournament in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a really good competition with all the world’s best divers here so it’s never going to be easy to win any kind of medal.”
He added: “With that in mind, I’m super happy to win silver and start the year on a good note.”
Like Hunt, Parades’ next competitive appearance is in Texas and he is fully aware he needs to improve if he wants to go one step better.
“I have to keep training and keep doing my best,” he said.
“I have three months to train when I get home in Madrid and see how I can improve.”
At the Abu Dhabi Yacht and Sailing Club, the Canadian sent out an early warning to her rivals by topping the standings in the first two rounds.
In her final jump from 20 metres high, the 34-year-old wowed the seven judges with an amazing somersault with perfect precision and technique. Her reward was a gold medal having accumulated a total of 253.80 points.
It was enough to hold off Australia’s Helena Merten and USA’s Ginger Huber, who finished second and third places, having won 229.60 and 209.85 points respectively.
With the world’s best high divers in the capital, it was no surprise that Richard was ecstatic with her victory.
“I’m really happy to have won,” she said. “It’s good to have come first but I know it wasn’t perfect and I still need to improve. However, it’s a great achievement for me.
“With such strong competitors, there really wasn’t a moment when I had thought I had won. Anything can change in a single dive. Even after my last dive, I was just hoping I had put on a good total.”
After finishing fifth in the FINA World Championships in Kazan last year, Richard ranks the feat among her best.
“This definitely has to be at the top,” she said. “The rest of the divers were really strong and every year they are showing signs of improvement. It’s hard to predict who can win the tournament but I always remain focused on what I need to do. It’s important that I do even better next time.”
Runner-up Merten came into the final round in third position and could not hide her emotions after clinching silver.
“It’s such an incredible feeling,” said the 26-year-old. “I just can’t believe it. To have come here to Abu Dhabi in a competition where the best divers are competing and win a medal is absolutely amazing.
“Any competition will be tough but today I decided to keep calm and control my nerves and remain focused.
“I always said to myself that I can do amazing dives so the self-confidence was always there. My training sessions were going really well and I just wanted to replicate the dives during the competition and I did exactly that.”
Despite achieving a podium finish, the Australian insists there’s still room for improvement.
“I still need to improve my technique a lot,” she said. “It was very good today but I want to work even harder and continue my form. Maybe in a few weeks time, I can starting working on new diving moves.”
If it wasn’t for the French passing Oracle Team USA in race three to capture their first win of the entire Luis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, the Americans would have topped the podium in Oman, instead of Land Rover BAR.
Even though the victory indirectly influenced the overall picture, the performance itself was a major benchmark for the French team.
“First race on board, it means a lot to win today,” said Adam Minoprio, who filled in as skipper for the injured Franck Cammas.
“We’ve come to this event to compete with the big teams and win races. We’re a new team on the circuit and America’s Cup, we have less experience of foiling than other teams. Every day we’re learning and improving to get to that level.
“It’s very good for confidence to win. We have great sponsors and the smallest budget. We’re small and fighting against the big teams.”
Coming into Oman, Groupama hadn’t finished higher than third in any of the races in Bermuda, Gothenburg or Portsmouth, but defied expectations in the final two races of day two.
Before their win, the French had their best result of the World Series by jumping to second place in race two. The day didn’t start promisingly, however, as they brought up the rear in the opening race and appeared headed for another lacklustre outing.
However, once they found their rhythm, especially off the starting line, they were hard to pass.
“We found our form and fixed the problems with our start, we were third in each of the next two races,” Minoprio said. “Yesterday, we were last to the reaching mark but I’m pretty happy with our start today.”
Groupama still have work to do to climb the overall World Series standings as they currently sit last heading to New York in May.
A potential return by Cammas, who will test his physical health in the interim, could boost their prospects as they continue to fight as underdogs.