Britain's Gary Hunt has just returned to the UK after dominating the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2010 and walking away with the title. We caught up with the 26-year-old who is the best in the business from 26 metres...
Gary, congratulations on becoming Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion for 2010. How does it feel to be the best in the world?
Thank you. It feels really crazy. It feels like yesterday that I was at home watching the sport with my friends on TV and talking about it. It’s a great feeling. I always knew when I watched the sport that this was something that I would love and now to be called world champion of it, well it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
'It's a great feeling. It hasn't quite sunk in yet'
How pleased were you to beat Orlando Duque this year after coming so close in 2009?
He’s the man to beat. He’s nine times world champion and he’s so consistent and to beat him is a great honour. I can see a change in the whole level of the sport. Orlando didn’t just sit at home, then do the same dives this year as last. He came right from the start with new dives and showed he wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
What sort of rivalry do you have with Orlando and the rest of the guys? Is there camaraderie between you all or is it an intense rivalry?
There’s definitely less of a competitive element in cliff diving than 10 metre diving. I think because there’s more of a risk and we have such a select group, you get to know each other very well and you know what they’re going through. The first thing that everyone does at the end of the competition is check that everyone managed to get through it in one piece so to speak. You never want someone to mess up badly because you know how much it can hurt. You’re obviously competitive during the competition, but as for rivalry, we’re a friendly bunch and we’re all happy to laugh and joke around really.
I’d be terrified of even being that high up on a cliff. How big is the danger element in cliff diving?
It can be dangerous when accidents happen, but if you make sure in a competition that the divers have enough experience and that their level is high enough then you get less accidents. We all know it can happen and it’s what keeps the sport exciting, knowing that there is a risk involved, but it’s danger at a controlled level I would say.
Have you ever had any mishaps yourself in cliff diving?
I took a bit of a hit in Italy when I tried to learn a new dive – a two-and-a-half twisting quad – and I just sort of ran out of space a little bit. It wasn’t the best take off so I didn’t really have time to do all the somersaults and twists and I got a bit hurt. It was fairly superficial and it just took a couple of days to get over it. I try to stay away from diving accidents. That was the first and hopefully the only.
You guys all look calm and collected up on the platform. Do you even get nervous up there?
Yeah, every time. Even with the easy dives, you still have to be 100 per cent up tight and it doesn’t always happen. There are times when you slightly misjudge it and then it can give you a bit of a slap. So you always have to be focused and I think a little bit of nerves helps to keep you concentrated and make sure you don’t make any silly mistakes.
'If you misjudge it, it can give you a bit of a slap'
Cliff diving and the UK don’t seem to be a natural mix. How did you first get into the sport?
I was a swimmer originally and I found it more interesting to watch the divers in the diving pool. I also had a bit of a gymnastic background when I was very young and so I was quite happy to flip myself round and try all the somersaults and things and so I quickly found my passion in that. Then in 2006 I got a chance to do a diving show that had two three-metre boards and one ladder going up to about 20 metres. It was there that I had a chance meeting with one of the divers from the competition and he put my name down for a series of competitions in 2007.
You dominated the series this year. What do you put your improvement down to in 2010?
I think that the season last year really helped. It gave me the chance to get comfortable with the height and try out new dives, so I got my degree of difficulty higher. This year’s just been about working on consistency really.
Is there any room for improvement for next year?
I’m happy with the dives that I’m doing at the moment. I’ve still got the two-and-a-half twisting quad in my mind and to do that I’ll need to work on my running take off. I’ll be working on that in the off season and hopefully I’ll get that down and be more consistent for next year’s series.
Do you think that there could be a series stop in the UK one day, or do we just not have the right conditions over here?
It’s been talked about, because there are a few castles around that we could use where there’s enough water around the outside of the castle to do it. The locations we use are ones that show the typical scenery of the particular country, so I wouldn’t rule it out. There could be chance for 2012.
'I wouldn't rule out a World Series stop in the UK'
What would it mean to you to compete here?
I’ve never high dived in England before and that would be the first time that it would have been shown in this country, so to have the chance to compete here would be great.
What’s next for you now that the series is over?
I’m going to take some time off soon and have a holiday, then it’s back to training, as the series starts again in February.
For more on Gary Hunt and the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, click here