Chasing Glory: The fears and ambitions of the first Polish cliff diver

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Throughout the past years, cliff diving has established a well-deserved spot among the most spectacular extreme sports, facing a continuous growth in popularity. Besides the increased admirationamong the fans of the sport, cliff diving also attracts more and more newcomers daily;new daredevils willing to perform “leaps of faith” from dizzying heights, defying gravity while executing mind-blowing twists and flips. Despite coming from different cultures andhaving different techniques, they all share one objective, one common goal: to earn a spot amongst the cliff diving elite in the most prestigious competition– the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

In its seventh season, the Cliff Diving World Series is scheduled to kickstart on April 25, in the Colombian city of Cartagena. Yet only five spots out of ten have been secured by last season’s top five athletes, the other five still being up for grabs.

Photographer Credit: Dean Treml/Red Bull Cliff Diving

Photographer Credit: Dean Treml/Red Bull Cliff Diving

In less than a week, 19 divers from 12 different countries will go head-to-head in a qualification round; their only opportunity to earn a ticket to the 2015 World Series. For some, this will be their first shot ever. Others, however, have been through all this tension and stress before, experience being an advantage on their side.

Kris Kolanus is one of the latter. Originally from Czestochowa, Poland, he has been a high diver since 2009.

“It’s already been six years since I did my first high dive.” beginsKolanus, recalling his first experience.

“It all started when I was working as a performer in a diving show, in China. I still remember that dive as if it was yesterday; the height, the adrenaline, the flight – something that words can hardly describe. I was hooked.”

He is calm, but his eyes sparkle with excitement when he speaks about it. It’s easy to tell that cliff diving has a special place in his heart.Yet as the sport alone and the competitions don’t provide him with the necessary financial security, he found a great alternative for earning an income by performing in high diving shows.

“Cliff diving is my passion, but high diving is my job.” says the 27-year-old, who in present works as a high diveron the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas.

“Having already done two contracts, this being my third, I find cruise ships a great gig; they are a great opportunityto maintain your physical and mental condition. You always have to perform to your best potential and that’s what keeps you motivated.

“Although the layout of the theatre is very different from the open sea and the platform is only 17 metres high, compared to the 27 metres in Red Bull competitions, it facilitates practicing the flight and the most important part of the dive – the entry.

“Also, being part of a team of 18 talented people, divers and acrobats from all over the world, is great fun. We all want to prove ourselves, to better ourselves; hence, we push each other each and every time. It’s a challenge, but challenges always lead to improvement, right? And that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

Ahead of the qualification round, Kolanus is committed to work hard, putting in all the required effort that, hopefully, will keep him in cards this upcoming season. He follows a strenuous training routine, but also makes sure he rests appropriately. He is mindful of his actions, though, avoiding any risks before this crucial qualification round.

Cliff diving is a tough sport that takes a toll on your body; a sport where even the smallest mistake, the slightest hesitation may have dramatic consequences. Kolanus is all too aware of these severities, having faced an injury which almost destroyed his chances of competing in last year’s series.

“We were in Texas, at Possum Kingdom Lake, when I decided to try this new dive – the inward quad with a half twist. I was feeling prepared, I felt ready. But now I realise it was only physically. My mind wasn’t fully there. I hesitated and ended up crashing.

“It was so hard on the body, that I had difficulty breathing for the first few minutes. The impact only bruised my lungs.And maybe scarred my confidence a bit. But I was lucky; it could have been much worse.”

When plunging from 27 meters into the waters below, reaching speeds of up to 85 kph in less than three seconds, the impact could be even fatal. But Kolanus wasn’t a quitter; he got up and carried on.

“Three weeks later, I was recovered. It was my chance and I wanted to take full advantage of it.

“The crash intimidated me, at first. But with every competition, my dives were getting better than before and I became more confident. Three months later I was on the podium for the first time, taking the bronze medal in Bilbao, Spain.

“I refuse to let fear take over again.” added the Pole. “I overcame it once, I won’t let it win over my goals.

“This year I have some ambitious objectives and I will try my best to achieve them;I plan on working on a new, more difficult dive and hopefully make the World Series Final, which will guarantee me a spot for the 2016 season. It’s a long and winding way ahead but, why not? This could be my best year so far.”

Kris Kolanus will travel to Cali, Colombia for the qualification round, which will take place between 5-7 February.

Article written by: CatalinPreda