Flight plan

Words: Ann Donahue


Think of the diving boards you know from watching the Olympics: The springboard— the bouncy, seemingly easy one—is 3 meters high, almost 10 feet above the water. The much taller solid platform that invites anxiety attacks in viewers and snippy commentary about splash volume from judges is 10 meters high, or 33 feet up.

Cesilie Carlton is the best female diver in the world from a distance of twice that, at 20 meters or 66 feet—approximately the same height as a seven-story building. From that distance, divers reach 22 mph in the two seconds it takes to break the water. It’s a queasy, vertigo-inducing height, and one that hasn’t been available for women to regularly compete in—until now.

“Who doesn’t like to compete and test their skills against others?”

For the first time in 2014, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series will host a threeevent women’s competition, with stops in Forth Worth, Texas, on June 7; Kragerø, Norway, on July 12 and Rio de Janeiro on October 19.

Five women, including Carlton, will compete at each stop, with several wildcard entrants also participating at each event. For Carlton, 33, it’s a long-awaited expansion of a sport she’s practiced since she was a teenager.

“I am a muscle-memory diver. I can often see most of the dives in my mind, but I am confident that my body knows what to do.”

As a child, she was a competitive swimmer and elite-level gymnast—and realized one day during swim practice that she could combine the two. Her first dive was a front 1.5 pike—one and a half forward somersaults, with her upper body folded over her extended legs— literally child’s play to what she can do now.

Carlton’s high-diving skills were mastered as a performer in The House of Dancing Water, a $250 million aquatic stage show at the City of Dreams Casino in Macau. During practice and two 90-minute performances daily, she high-dives into a 3.7 million gallon tank from a variety of platforms—including a daredevil standing leap from a swing where she can practice the dives she uncorks in competition, like a triple half: three complete somersaults in pike position, then an extension into a twist to orient her body feet-first into the water.

Emboldened by her stage experience, in 2013 Carlton took first place in the high-dive division at the World Aquatic Championships in Barcelona, the first time the competition—sponsored by FINA, the Federation Internationale de Natation, diving’s Switzerland-based governing body—included a 20-meter platform.

Last year, Cesilie Carlton won the women’s competition at the FINA world championship for high divers, finishing ahead of fellow American Ginger Leigh Huber and German Anna Bader. The three will face off again at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, alongside competition from American Rachelle Simpson and Brazil’s Jacqueline Valente.

“The competition was huge, much larger than I anticipated, but so much fun. Who doesn’t like to compete and test their skills against others?” she says.

Now that there is a global series for women this year—one that piggybacks off the success of the men’s Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which has had more than 25 stops around the world since it was founded in 2009—Carlton has lofty ambitions for high diving.

“I’m hoping that having an official competition for women will not only bring more publicity to the sport of cliff diving, but I also hope it establishes high diving as a sport that could possibly be in the Olympics,” she says.

The first step of that expansion into mainstream acceptance comes with the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event in Forth Worth, just a couple hundred miles from Carlton’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. It will be the first time that her four sisters—and 11 nieces and nephews—will see her dive.

“I think that my mom has told every person that she has come across in San Antonio that her daughter is a World Champion,” Carlton laughs. “Whether they want to hear it or not.”

Cesilie Carlton: What to Know

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Birthdate: March 27, 1981

Height/Weight: 5’5”/119 lbs.

City of residence: Macau

Profession: Performer in The House of Dancing Water

Family status: Married

Started cliff diving in: 2009

Secret passion: “I don’t think that I have a secret passion. I can never keep a secret, so there would be no way for me to have a ‘secret’ passion.” Favorite cliff diving spot: “I haven’t yet dived from a cliff but Italy looks amazing.”

Favorite dive: “Although I don’t do it, the inward double half [two somersaults and a rotating twist] is my favorite dive to watch.”

My (cliff diving) hero: “My husband, Jason Carlton. To this day I am still in awe of his beauty and fitness in the air. He is a beautiful diver, and it is not because I’m biased. He competed in Red Bull Cliff Diving a couple of years back. I first learned about high diving and cliff diving from him.”

Goal for this season: “To have a consistent Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, and bring in some new dives.”


•FINA High Diving World Champion, 2013

• NJCAA Springboard Champion, 1 and 3 meters

• EFSL Swimming Championships, youngest competitor

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May 2014 The Red Bulletin

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