European competition humbles Alaska cliff diver

Posted: Tuesday, August 03, 2010

FAIRBANKS - An Alaska diver with hopes of joining the Red Bull professional cliff diving circuit has returned home from a European competition with a bruised ego and body.

Jim Ahiers of Fairbanks finished last among 12 divers in the July 24 event at Ponte Brolla, Switzerland, after soliciting an invitation from organizers to become the lone American.

The diving coach at North Pole High and former state high school diving champ said he returned home from the European Open Cliff Diving Championship with bruises on 60 percent of his body.

"For me to go over there thinking I was going to charm the crowd and join the professional Red Bull circuit on my first try was a pipe dream," Ahiers said. "It was really, really difficult to adapt to cliff diving."

Divers had the option of diving from 13, 15 and 20 meters. Higher dives were worth more points. Ahiers attempted all three of his dives from 13 meters, the equivalent of four stories.

Even with four days to practice before the competition, Ahiers said he couldn't get the hang of it.

"I'd do three disgustingly painful wipeouts and then hit one good dive," he said. "Once I could take off right I could do some really nice dives."

Ahiers was in 10th place going into the third round and was poised to move up two or three spots on his final dive when he broke one of his own rules by trying a dive he had never tried before - a forward 1 1/2 somersaults with two twists. It was a mistake.

"I choked," Ahiers said of his final dive. "I stood there like a deer in headlights on the cliff for a minute and a half. I looked down and couldn't visualize the dive; I couldn't see it in my head."

Ahiers came short, getting only about 1 1/4 twists. As soon as he hit the water, he knew it was a failed dive.

"I could have finished a lot higher had I done an easy dive for my last dive that I knew I could do," Ahiers said.

Blake Aldridge, captain of Britain's diving team at the 2008 Bejing summer Olympics, won the competition with a total score of 301.325 on his three dives, followed by Ilya Shchurov of Russia in second place with 283.175 points. Ahiers finished 12th with 78.90 points, scoring zero points on his last dive.

But he said it was a good experience. The Swiss and fellow divers "treated me like family," Ahiers said, and fellow competitors nicknamed him "grizzly bear" because of his size and strength, as well as the fact he was from Alaska.

Ahiers, who lost 28 pounds training for the competition, said organizers invited him back to the European event immediately after it was over.

Now he wants to purchase an Olympic trampoline to practice on and eventually get an indoor space so he can practice year-round and form a club in Fairbanks.

"I'll do this again, definitely," he said.

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