17 Sep Love and Emotions in Polignano a Mare/ Italy
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 answer.
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: ANNAAAA BAAADEEEEERRRR, TEDESCAAAA, TUFFATRICCEEEE, LA 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.
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 non-dramatic 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!
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:
- Falling in love with Kris Kolanus
- 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!
- 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 Nut
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.
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.