Gary Hunt “I’m more confident when I’m in Speedos”Defending his title isn’t enough for the four-times world champion cliff-diver: he wants to win every event this season
Gary Hunt grew up in Southampton, but these days the champion diver travels the globe from the Paris suburb he calls home. Having taken first prize in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series for an incredible fourth time last year, 30-year-old Hunt heads into the new season more determined than ever.
THE RED BULLETIN: You’ve had huge success in this competition over previous years. Does this add to the pressure this time around?
GARY HUNT: The success is only just sinking in, to be honest. I’d been in the sport for four years when I became champion for the first time [in 2010], and at that stage it still felt strange being among all these divers I used to watch on TV, let alone going on to win the thing. It’s taken years for that to feel normal. The competition gets tougher each time as everyone ups their game, but I’ve stepped up my training and I’m in a good place right now. The bigger the challenge, the more pride I feel in winning.
What makes you better than your fellow competitors?
I think it’s down to the way I train and the kind of person I am. I’m one of those people who, at the end of a practice session, will use any spare moment to play around and try out interesting dives. Some divers might have a problem with a certain dive and choose to avoid it, sticking instead to the elements they’re strongest at. But I’ll work hard on those weaker elements to make them my strengths. I push myself to perform every type of dive there is.
Do you still get scared when you return to cliff diving after the off-season break?
A cliff dive is anything between 26-28m high, and our sport is unique in that we have nowhere to train at that height when we’re not competing. Which makes the first event of the season more scary. I remember being really nervous during my first dive of the season two years ago. I couldn’t stop my legs from visibly shaking. I had to step back off the platform and shake them out. After that first dive, I was fine.
You’ve got a reputation as an innovator, having not just performed the only dive with a running start, but also the most complex, with the highest difficulty level of 6.2. What’s next?
There’s always room to improve. You only need to look at what the 10m divers are doing; theirs is an older sport than ours in competitive terms, but they’re still innovating. We have almost three times the amount of space to play with, so there’s always more to fit in. As for this year, I’m focusing on bringing more consistency to my diving. My goal is to win every event this season. That’s never been done before, so why not go for it?
What is it about cliff diving that makes the risk worthwhile for you?
It’s the feeling of having conquered it. You feel stress and pressure when you’re on the platform as it’s a dangerous thing to get wrong. But the second my feet leave the platform, all fear disappears because you know you can’t stop it. That’s a great feeling. Your body is totally in control; it’s like switching on cruise control and letting muscle memory take over for those three seconds. Then, once you’re in the water, there’s the huge relief and happiness that you did it. The real rush comes when it’s over.
You spend most of your professional life in Speedos. Do you get self-conscious?
When I’m diving off a cliff, I feel completely normal in Speedos. But there are a couple of competitions where we dive, go to the beach and walk through a town centre to get back up to the platform, and that can feel a bit strange. Then again, I once walked along a diving platform fully clothed to have a look down and I was terrified. You feel the wind more with your clothes on, and you know you’re not ready to dive, so it’s scarier. I’m always more confident when I’m in my Speedos.
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