Iris Schmidbauer on jumping from the cliffs of this world
BY CARMELA MELONE
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q1 2019)
While most people wouldn’t dare to step closer to the edge, cliff divers boldly throw themselves from cliffs of over twenty metres in height in order to show off their dives, somersaults and twists in front of an ecstatic audience. The impressive backdrops of beautiful locations such as Mostar or Polignano a Mare ensure that the spectacle is surrounded by a unique atmosphere. The successful German cliff diver Iris Schmidbauer tells us about the tough training and tight-knit community behind it all.
Iris, as a cliff diver, you have been taking part in large international competitions since 2016. How did you become involved in this sport?
I began diving in Utting am Ammersee, where there is a beautiful ten-metre wooden diving platform. When I was 13 years old, I watched the 2008 Olympic Games on TV and discovered high diving, which captivated me immediately. I was then able to convince my parents to allow me to go to a try-out training session in Munich. It didn’t remain a try-out session for long – to start with, I went to training sessions once a month, later I regularly went once or twice a week. I also got to know cliff divers through the club, who told me that not only can you dive from heights of 20 or even 27 metres – you can also survive it! That was fascinating to me, of course. They recommended that I attend the International Cliff Diving Championships in Switzerland. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I should just watch or whether I should take part myself. Eventually, I summoned up the courage to take part was won second place with three dives from 15 metres. In November 2014, I visited a family in Plymouth whom I had met in the summer during the competition in Switzerland. During my stay, I was able to train with Fito Gutierrez at the Plymouth Diving Club, who used to be a professional cliff diver. The Plymouth Diving Club subsequently offered to train me professionally five to six times a week. I was unable to resist their offer, of course. I then moved to Plymouth in September 2015 and studied Sports Therapy at Plymouth University alongside my training. I have also been doing my PhD at Plymouth University since 2018.
Describe the feeling of diving in front of tens of thousands of spectators against impressive backdrops such as Polignano a Mare and Budapest.
It’s a great feeling. Impressive. Just before the dive, however, all you do is focus and you no longer take in any of your surroundings. It’s not until afterwards that you realise what just happened. And then you’re just pleased that so many other people are enthusiastic about your sport. Most of the spectators would never dive from these heights themselves, yet they find it exciting to watch.
How much hard training is involved in spectacular dives from heights of 20 metres, and where do you train for your dives?
It requires a lot of hard training and dedication, in particular when it comes to your mindset. And it takes a lot of patience. You can reach a certain level in high diving relatively quickly, but the amount of training required to make it to the top grows exponentially. At a certain point, it becomes harder and harder to fit in one more somersault or another twist. I train at a swimming pool together with the traditional divers. You separate the dive into individual components and then practise them separately from various heights. Visualising the entire dive is extremely important. The individual parts are then joined together during a 20-metre dive, although you fall a lot faster during the final ten metres than during the training sessions of the individual dive sections from a height of ten metres. It is also crucial to make sure that you don’t take off more carefully due to the height, because otherwise you won’t complete the dive by the time you hit the water. Until now, I have been training approximately ten hours a week in parallel to my degree in England. Now I want to give it all I’ve got, so I have been training at the ‘Bundesstützpunkt Wasserspringen’ (Federal High Diving Centre) in Dresden since the beginning of this year, where I train for approximately 24 hours a week. This also involves training with and without weights, gymnastics and acrobatics as well as dry training which involves diving into a foam pit and on a trampoline.
You reach speeds of almost 80 kilometres per hour when diving into the water from such heights. What does that feel like and how important is the dive into the water?
Diving into the water is the most important phase of the entire dive, because it shows whether you have truly mastered the dive. You also get a high score if you create little or ideally no splash at all. You have to make sure that you keep your body tense so that you cut through the water like a knife as you dive in. When entering the water, you feel a kind of shockwave that courses through your entire body. The slightest inaccuracy can be painful, especially to the neck.
There have been efforts to turn platform diving from heights such as these into an Olympic sport. Would taking part in the Olympics appeal to you?
Definitely! Who wouldn’t like to have the opportunity to take part in the Olympics? I would be delighted if that would one day be the case. It would also be a lot easier in terms of funding if cliff diving became an Olympic sport. At the moment, only dives from ten-metre towers and three-metre boards are classed as Olympic categories. Unfortunately, the association currently only has the resources to support Olympic disciplines and is therefore unable to support cliff diving as much as other sports, despite the fact that it is also part of the high diving category.
What competitions will you be taking part in in 2019 and what are your goals?
There aren’t any definite plans, but there will be a world championship in South Korea as well as a world cup, both of which I would like to take part and do well in! I have also just received two wild cards for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Dublin and the Azores. My performance in Dublin and the Azores will determine which further competitions of the Red bull Cliff Diving World Series I can take part in.
Iris Schmidbauer has been participating in professional high diving competitions since 2016 and regularly achieves top-ten positions. She reached eighth place in both 2018 Red Bull Cliff Diving competitions in Mostar and Sisikon.
Picture credit © Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool