Urban cliff divers make a splash 23 Aug 11

Alain Kohl of Luxembourg dives during the final round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2011 competition in Boston, Massachusetts August 20, 2011.

By Lauren Keiper

(Reuters) – Divers from across the globe leapt from a platform some 90 feet above Boston Harbor on Saturday in an extreme-diving tour that used the overhanging roof of an art museum as its most recent launching pad.

Fourteen divers competed in the urban twist to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

Their diving board was the roof of the Institute of Contemporary Art, as thousands of spectators marveled at the acrobatic feat from behind a glass wall on the museum’s fourth floor gallery, and from nearby grandstands and lawn seats.

Some of the best views were had by spectators cruising the waters nearby in leisure boats, or lounging in kayaks mere feet from the divers’ entry point.

It took just three seconds from take-off to entry, with a host of tucks, twists and somersaults on the way down, before divers pierced the water at speeds of 60 miles per hour, with an audible smack.

“You can’t help but get nervous for them as you’re watching,” said Kristie Faletra, 37, who was at the event with her two young sons.

The divers, too, fought nerves before launching from the platform eight stories high, toward the water that was 23 feet deep. They entered the water feet first, to guard against the force of impact of falling from so high, and gave the thumbs-up to a safety team when they surfaced.

“When you’re up on top of the platform, it’s important to trust your body,” said U.S. competitor Steven LoBue, who added that he is “absolutely terrified” right before diving.

LoBue, 26, is a rookie on the tour but a 15-year veteran of competitive diving. For the last year, he has worked as a stunt and entertainment diver.

He made the finals of the Boston round of competition on Saturday, but the day’s winner was Gary Hunt, 27, an athlete from the United Kingdom and the 2010 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion.

Even though one more stop remains on the seven-nation world tour, Hunt clinched this year’s overall title again with the points he earned in the Boston round.

So far this year, divers have vaulted from natural cliffs in Chile, Mexico, Greece, France and Italy. They will finish the competition in Ukraine next month. Boston served as the only urban venue.

“It really took my breath away to see the speed, the artistry and the athleticism,” said Paul Bessire, a spokesman for the Institute of Contemporary Art.

In some of the most recent events, including Boston, divers have been judged by four-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis.

“The level of diving has really been impressive,” Louganis told Reuters ahead of Saturday’s event.

Louganis, who is one of diving’s most recognizable competitors, said he has never dived from a platform as high as the Boston museum used on Saturday. But his recent stint as a judge has made him think about taking the leap, he added.