17 Sep Love and Emotions in Polignano a Mare/ Italy

Posted at 09:21h in Blog, Video by Mad Hoppers Team

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Polignano a Mare, Italy on June 1,
2019. // Photo: Romina Amato/

A Very Subjective Chronology by Anna Bader
2008 – The Only Female in the Game and a Personal Record Dive
In 2008 I flew to Polignano a Mare / Italy for the first time in my life. I actually
don’t remember the exact circumstances of the trip but I ended up being the
only female Cliff Diver (even not sure this professional expression existed
back then) among all the heavy weights of the sport. My friend Alain Kohl
was there, who actually got me into competitive cliff diving, the French
connection Hassan and Cyrille as well as Gary Hunt, Orlando Duque,
Michal Navratil, and Sergey Zotin, who was Orlandos biggest rival at the
time. I was in awe and impressed and didn’t fully understand what was going
on and why I was actually there. Someone had the idea – Orlando was that
you? That I could be diving off the men’s platform before the final round. The
platform was 24.5 meters high back then. Sure, why not?! I assume was my
I barely slept the night before the event and spent most of the time in the
bathroom because I was so nervous.What did I get myself into? Up to that
date I had not been diving frequently off big heights and I had freshly learned
the basic cliff diving move – a barani and a double half off 10 meters. My
main experience diving off bigger heights was limited to an invitation to an
event in China in 2006, where the platform was 21 meters high instead of 17
meters as previously announced. My training there ended with two new dives,
a handstand back layout and a gainer… and a broken tailbone that wouldn’t
stop hurting me for an entire year. You see – perfect conditions to flip off an
even higher platform in front of multiple thousands of spectators!
The next day I was not able to follow the competition of the men much when
the moment finally arrived to put an end to my suffering. I can still hear the
voice of the Italian presenter in my head when he passionately announced:
UNICA DONNNNNAAAAA!!!! I climbed up the ladder and the moment I
stepped on this amazing platform the entire crowd just went nuts, they were
clapping, cheering, screaming. …and me? All of a sudden I felt peaceful up
there. I walked to the front as graceful as possible just as if I was on my own
personal catwalk, 24.5 meters over sea level. I approached the edge, waving
and greeting to all sides, smiling and soaking up this mindblowing moment.
Then I took a deep breath, stepped out on the edge and when I lifted my
arms for take off, the noise around me ceased in the fraction of a second and
turned into a silence impossible to imagine with so many people present.
The calm surface did not look as high as it did in my anticipating nightmares,
in fact, the beautiful, turkey water looked… inviting. Just take your time, I told
myself, do the same like you do off ten meters, but rotate just a bit slower,
keep your eyes open, spot the water after the first sommersault, stay in
control… And then I jumped.

Damiano Levati/Red Bull Content Pool /
I did turn slow, in fact so slow that even 24.5 meters were not enough to
finish my double half pike and I had to bend my legs in the last sequence of
the dive. However, these few seconds, the feeling of flying was absolutely
phenomenal, sensational, out of this world… well, until the landing put a quiet
abrupt finish to my floating through cosmic spheres. I entered the water
straight on my feet with my arms up and was almost crushed in half. At least
that’s what it felt like. I waited a few seconds under water – which is a great
place to hang out if you need a moment on your own. Quick check – yes, I
was able to move all my limbs, no pain, and the adrenaline rush made
everything feel light and exhilarated. A guy on jet skies picket me up and
escorted me back to the beach, passing the crowds in the water and on the
rocks, the thousands of fans applauding, screaming and cheering in
disbelief. This dive is still my record dive in terms of height up to now and
certainly one of my most intense and exciting moments of my entire career.
          2009 Joining the Circus and First Model Experience – on a
Classical Vespa Scooter
I joined the first ever Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series (only male participants
back then) for two stops: Hamburg/ Germany, where I dove off a tiny, tiny
plattform attached to an antique sailing ship called Rickmer Rickmers, about
18 meters over the water surface. A few weeks later I was invited to come
once again to Polignano. This time, however, I had announced beforehand
that I would not dive off the men’s platform as I had done the previous year. A
few months earlier I had started a contract with Franco Dragone, the
acclaimed former Cirque du Soleil director. Tell me, who doesn’t know the the
most famous water show “O” in Las Vegas…? This was the dream of my life
come true! At the time we were preparing to open the Worlds biggest Aquatic
Show The House of Dancing Water in the City of Dreams Casino Complex in
Macau/China. Just the theatre there hadn’t been finished on time and the
premiere had to be postponed. This circumstance gave me the opportunity to
finish my University studies which were way over due already. And it also
allowed me to visit the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. I definitely didn’t
want to miss out, but with a save (yet unconventional) three years contract in
my pocket I really didn’t want to risk any injury.
The lovely Italian RB team said that it was not a problem, they invited me to
come anyway, to take some videos and pictures for the media and help
promote the sport. Well, all right! I did some (technically crappy) back
summersaults of a lower veranda, then I jumped out of a balcony of a private
apartment adjacent to the sea which I had the impression served as a secret
lovers retreat and was only about 17 meters high. Everything was recorded
and spread all over the news. The Breaking News of a German diving out of
houses into the Mediterranean even reached the Eisdiele Rizzardini in
Morbach im Hunsrück , a small German town where my parents live. But
the highlight of the trip surely was a photo shoot for the Gazzetta dello Sport,
the famous Italian sports magazine. They had organized a make up stylist,
and a fashion person to optimize my looks before posing on a yellow Vespa
scooter. I was driving an old Vespa of my own back home – so it was
eaaaaasy! When I brought back the magazine and showed the pictures to my
Mom she said in admiration: Oh, absolutely beautiful!!! Who is that?? And in
fact – my legs were unfamiliarly long, so was my hair and all the rest was
flawless, too. Just like in real life, of course. That was an enlightening
moment, though, because before I sort of believed what I saw in magazines.
Everything fake! It even seemed the shorts I had been wearing had become
significantly shorter!

I had a great time in Polignano that year, but I could not help dreaming of how
cool it would be to have real competitions for women! How great it must be to
not just pose and speak but to actually display athletic skills in a picturesque
and unique spot like this! Six years later, in 2015, my dream turned into a
reality in Polignano a Mare.
2015 – A Somewhat Turbulent Love Life, Two Blind Entries and
Rhiannan Iffland entering the Scene
It was already the second season for women competing at the Cliff Diving
World Series. After winning the inaugural event in Malcesine 2013, I was the
runner up after Rachelle (Rocco) Simpson in the first season 2014. 2015
had not gone that well that far, my results were a bit mellow and my private
life was a mess. To say the least. I had finished my stable and for once nondramatic
relationship and had basically fallen in love with two other men at
the same time. Trouble. One of them happened to be Kris Kolanus and my
memories of Polignano 2015 include spending most of my time with him,
eating Gelati and tons of seafood, swimming naked in the Mediterranean
waters (at night) and amore, amore, amore. Regarding diving I was going for
the – in my humble opinion – craziest dive performed by women yet – a triple
front interrupted in pike position with a blind entry. Blind entry dives are
specifically dangerous as you spot the water surface only the very last
fraction of a second before you hit the water – if at all. Even in the men’s
competition those manoeuvers were rarely performed due to the high risk. My
friend from Russia Artem Silchenko was the King of Blind Entries… his
extremely difficult handstand dive with two and a half backtwists and a blind
entry is absolutely legendary and helped him numerous titles a hair ahead of
Michal Navratil, Gary Hunt and Orlando Duque.
be honest – it was not entirely my own idea. The inspiration came from Todor
Spasov who I was working with in a Sokol Show in Walibi Rhone-Alp that
summer. He persuasively inspired me to train just one triple front every day
from the ladder at 19 meters at the park. I very reluctantly started following
his advice – I never considered it feasible for me. But then I noticed… well,
actually, it might be possible!

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Polignano a Mare, Italy on 23 July
2017. // Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool /
My initial idea was to perform a triple back tuck summersault. Back then I was
known for my experimental nature (also in diving). I enjoyed to push the limits
and come up with always new dive varieties. I have never seen you do twice
the same dives in competition! Alessandro de Rose told me with respect. So
in the end I performed both dives, triple back and triple front. It was a
memorable moment for me as it was the program with the most badass dives
in my entire career! Even though it did not pay off in terms of points and
placements it is something I am very proud of. There were a few things that
really helped me:
1. Falling in love with Kris Kolanus
2. Having Ginger Huber at my side. She went for the same dive, front
triple with blind entry. She totally nailed it in competition and kept this
risky dive in her program for the following years!
3. Steve Lobue: Hey Kris, which room are you in? 305. And you, Anna?
305. Ah. Wait, both of you??? Well… Our liaison had not become
official yet and we had secretely given our other room to Rhiannan
Iffland, a former diver and trampolinist. She had worked with Kris on
the Royal Caribbean cruise ship and was now in France performing in
the same Sokol show like me. In Polignano she was allowed to train
with the competitors and performed her very first dive of a Red Bull
Cliff Diving platform. Hassan Mouti and all the other team members
were certainly impressed by the (back then) somewhat shy Australian.
But would anyone have guessed that she was becoming the underdog
winning the entire upcoming season? And the one after that? … and the
one after that … and after that? I am proud to say that before becoming
the sports leading woman up to now, she was our loyal supporter on
and off the field in Polignano a Mare in 2015. Thanks, Rhi!
2016 – Tricking the Flight Attendant and Falling out of a Floating Dough
I was nine month pregnant and I still wanted to come and cheer Kris on. He
had prepared a new dive: the Quint half pike which is with a degree of
difficulty of 5.2 one of the most difficult dives in the world of Cliff Diving. Up to
that date only Steve Lobue had mastered that trick. It turned out it would stay
like this for a bit longer. But I did not know that. So I had to trick the Ryanair
staff to allow me to board the plane. The lady was sitting behind the counter,
issuing my ticket when she looked up at me, staring at my belly which I had
tried to hide behind a long scarf and a handbag. The volume was still visible
and in her eyes I reckoned a mix of suspicion and fury.
She: Are you pregnant? – Me: Are you telling me I am fat? That’s what I could
have said. But my blood was rushing in my veins, and while I was trying to
hold eye contact I said…Ehh… yes. 21 week.
You only had to bring a doctor’s note after week 24, I had checked the airlines
policy beforehand. I guess since she was not able to prove me wrong she
grudgingly let me pass. We arrived very late at night and Kris was supposed
to do the media dive together with all the other athletes at six in the morning
to catch a sunrise backdrop for a new record mass dive. He had the balls to
refuse which was something unprecedented. I thought that if your back is
already in pain after a long season, and you didn’t get much rest after
traveling and you have to compete the next day because the prize money is
all you take home with you – then well, better focus on the essential.
Common sense. We had a bit of trouble after our first Act of Rebellion but
there isn’t really anything that can spoil your mood when you are close to
becoming parents!!!
This time I watched the competition from the water surface hanging in a
floating ring. I had bought it last minute before the start of the event, I had
filled it with air barely managing not to faint in the summer heat and then had
made my way through the crowd chilling on the rocks facing the platform on
the opposite side of the bay. What a beautiful change of perspective! VIP
seat?? Pffffff!!! I wasn’t too eager to have cameras clinging to my face while
Kris would be doing his magic. Instead I did enjoy sharing the experience with
some original Italian fans next to me in a boat. Very proudly I informed them:
This is my husband! (Which was not entirely true as technically we were not
married back then. Well he was, but to another woman. I guess that makes it
partly true. And ‘boyfriend’ for me always associates with 7th grade. Not
adequate for the future father of my child.). So anyways we all cheered him
on even more! He displayed some phenomenal dives with the characteristic
perfection of body posture and splashless entry! It did not matter that Kris
finally was not ready for the quint half and decided to stick to the save and
more easy program with a quad half. (performing “only” four summersaults). I
was blown away either way. A very observant cameraman, (I suspect
you, Thomas “Harti” Hartmeier, right?) did catch me, while I was clapping
with an enthusiasm that resulted in tipping over with my floating dough nut.
After that my fan- neighbours invited me to join their boat and that was when
the party really started! It was a great event, even though we don’t remember
Kris’ or any other of the athlete’s placements.

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Polignano a Mare, Italy on August 27,
2016. // Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool //
2017 – Make Parents better Cliff Divers? Or Redemption of an
Unfinished Business
This event was the leg after the stop on the Azores where – to my own and
everyone else surprise – I had won the third place on the podium on my first
event after the baby break. That was unbelievable and I was of course happy
to stand on the podium together with Helena Merten and Adriana Jimenez
even though Ihad totally not been prepared to stay for the victory’s ceremony
and the interviews. For the first time we had hired a Nanny to stay with
Roksanka. I was anxious to get back to the hotel as fast as possible and
make sure that our daughter was alright. To make my time away shorter I had
even skipped the warm up training the day before!
And now I had an invite to the next stopp – Polignano, our already traditional
spot in Italy! We wanted to organize better and brought our friend and
cameraman Piotrek Klubicki with his wife and daughter Ninka as well as
beloved Babcia Iza to form the cheerleading team together with Roksi. The
weather was wonderful and we had found a cosy and beautiful Airbnb
apartment in the historic center very close to the event venue. With an –
almost – view on the platform. Traditionally the athletes pass through the
notorious L’Abbatte house to reach the spacious terrace overlooking the
Mediterranean. From there small ladders lead up to the 21 and the 27 meter
platforms. The owner of the house was living there with his mother and had
always been an ardent fan of Cliff Diving. Yet in recent years it had become a
bit of a discomfort passing him in a bikini or swimsuit. He also just seemed a
bit too close and a bit too loud when we were trying to warm up and visualise
our upcoming dives in his living room. The ultimate challenge of trying to
zoom in and not get distracted in your mental preparation! Obviously, when
he passed away about a year ago we all were in shock as it seemed
impossible to imagine the Red Bull Cliff Diving without Signore Pietro
L’Abbatte. He had become a classic and luckily his legacy lives on.
So that year we were superbusy organising our entourage. I remember we
also recorded a promotion video for our upcoming workshops at the High
Jump Event in Czech Republic as well as some interviews for our
Mad Hoppers Guts over Fear series. I also recall a wonderful dinner at this
special place with our family and friends and Roksana complementing the
evening with displaying her newly acquired walking skills together with her
new friend Ninka – to the waiters nuisance who were extremely busy that
night. Those Camerieri were great at slaloming and somehow managed to
not run the two girls over while delivering the food to the numerous tables
with very fancy looking guests.
And then at one point it was time to compete. Mostly I enjoyed waving to my
daughter and mother in (not law, but still) who were on the roof top of the
hotel on the exact opposite side of the bay. It went well, just my signature
dive, a handstand front half summersault pike which requires a lot of patience
and extension in the air, did not go thaaaat well. This time the dive featured a
bit of an undesired swingy move in the air with my arms as the platform in
Italy with 21.5 meters is slightly higher than at other locations. We call it “the
window roller”. First I felt a bit disappointed but hen I set myself a new
objective for the rest of the comp: to find the flow back into my routine and
show my other dives the best quality possible. Which kind of worked! Proud
enough and without any further expectation regarding my own result I joined
some fans in the water to relax and watch the men’s competition.

The competition was not quite over yet, when crew members where
nervously waving at me. I swam to the beach. I felt a bit annoyed to be
disturbed while watching, when they informed me that I had to get ready for
the ceremony. Yeah right. Fool me again. I didn’t believe them. Two years
ago, in 2015 they had called me on the podium in Polignano, too. When
hestitating, Ginger back then encouraged me to step up and take the trophy
but later it turned out it had been a mistake. Actually – my dear friend YANA
(not Anna ) – Nestiarava from Belarus was the podium winner. Not sure if
you can imagine – this moment had felt incredibly embarrassing especially as
thousands of people were watching when – at first I was smiling my winner’s
smile and proudly lifting up the trophy over my head…and then the next
second I was called down and had to pass on the prize to Yana. Which I
totally did without the slightest grudge towards her! I apologized to her from
my heart and she apologized to me and Ginger apologized and the presenter
apologized and we all apologized and the whole thing just felt sooo bizarre.
Have you ever had a moment when you just wanted to disappear from the
surface of the world?? Well, this was mine!
But that time it turned out to be real. They seemed to get really nervous about
my reluctance, looking at their watches and anciously gesticulating in front of
my face. Right on time they managed to convince me that I won 3rd place, for
real, with less than two points behind my friend and former colleague at the
House of Dancing Water Show Jaqueline Valente on the 2nd place! I was
still a bit suspicious while opening the champagne. But then I was just
extremely happy to be able to stand on the podium which I was deprived off
two years ago. I actually really deserved it! It was wonderful. Except – this
year no one really cared because the crowd just waited for one winner… The
man of the day was local hero Alessandro de Rose!! For the very first time
he won the title of a Red Bull Cliff Diving competition with impeccable dives
supported by millions of fans. And now they could not wait for him to stand up
there, on the very top of the podium. All they wanted was to celebrate him
and get wasted, they were screaming, singing, babbling, shouting, crying and
hugging each other, taking selfies and Alessandro was also crying and then
holding his hand to his heart during the anthem who every single fan was
joining in. It was all very emotional.

2018 I was pregnant and the year after on mothers leave. But yet
Polignano would manage to surprise us again on a completely different
level. But that is a different story. Polignano a Mare holds a special
place in our hearts – for the passionate and emotional rollercoaster we
were able to live there. For the taste of a Rockstars life, for its pure
beauty and the Joie de Vivre which is so special to this place. A symbol
for a life that right now no one can imagine and which representes all
that we loved.
Check out a short video of our memories from the competitions in Italy.
Follow our YouTube channel for more video updates.

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