Red Bull Cliff Diving champion Gary Hunt can't wait to return to Ireland
© Romina Amato
The seven-time World Series winner reveals how he trains for the 27-metre high dives, and what he makes of the new stop in Dublin.
When Red Bull Cliff Diving makes a return on April 13th, British diver Gary Hunt will be gunning for glory...again. The 34-year-old, who lives and trains in Paris, has won the contest seven times since its inception back in 2009. Red Bull Ireland caught up with him between training sessions to find out how he trains for the 27-metre high dives, who his biggest competition is this year – and what he makes of the brand new location in Dublin.
What does your training regime usually involve?
I live in Paris, and train at the National Institute of Sport. I either do weights training or am in the pool. Today my warmup involved abs work and jumps, then dives in the pool. The maximum diving platform there is five metres.
If your training platform is only five metres high, how do you practice for Red Bull Cliff Diving, where the dives are 27 metres high?
You just cut the dive into several parts. You work on the first quarter of the dive first, then work on the middle of the dive and then the entry. It’s actually only when we go to compete, on the day before the competition, that we actually have a chance to put all those pieces together.
So how do you perform the perfect dive from 27 metres up if you’ve not done the whole thing before?
Cliff diving is one of the rare sports where you can’t train all year round, because you don’t normally have the luxury of a 27-metre high platform. You have to rely on imagination instead. I run through the dive in my head a lot before I do it, so it feels like I’ve done it much more than I actually have. Last year, they opened a training facility in China [in Zhao Qing] with the world’s first permanent 27-metre high diving platform. I’ll be going there for a training camp. In previous years we haven’t had that opportunity, so this is a big step for the sport.
How do you deal with the nerves when you’re standing at the top of the platform about to dive?
If you’re learning a new dive, it’s scary from the moment you wake up until the moment you’ve done it. But if it’s a dive I've done before, I get nervous about an hour before, but at the end of my warmup I feel ready to dive and am much less nervous. I just go into my routine and go through the motions. By that time I’ve already built up adrenaline and am ready to go. So, standing on the platform, I’m normally full of confidence and I know what I’m doing so it’s not the scariest moment.
Have you always had a head for heights?
When I was a kid, I wasn’t one to go out and search for places to jump off bridges. I’ve done that a few times, but I wouldn’t say that I was an adrenaline junkie. I just fell in love with the sport of diving and it felt natural to dip my toe into high diving and see what that was like.
You started out your career with smaller dives. Why did you move to high dives?
I would have loved to have stayed on 10-metre dives, but a young Tom Daly was coming through. I remember he beat me in a competition when he was only 12 and that’s when I realised it would be difficult to keep up if he was already at this high level at such a young age. High diving seemed like an open book at the time, and I could see there was room for improvement. It felt like a natural step, and as soon as I started doing the higher stuff, I found my confidence. I’m 34 years old and it’s rare for an athlete to still be able to compete at this point. High diving has given me the opportunity to keep doing what I love until today.
At 34, you’re one of the oldest athletes in the World Series, yet you’re still at the top. What do you put your success down to?
A lot of athletes are pushed too hard when they’re young, then fall out of love with the sport. I didn’t taste victory until 2009 with high diving, and I was already 25 at that point. My career started late, but it means that I don’t feel burnt out now. I still love diving as much as I did when I first started and that’s thanks to high diving. If I had stuck to 10 metre diving it could have got boring. Doing the Red Bull competitions is anything but boring. I still have a fire inside me, and I’m still the best in the game at the moment.
You’ve won the title seven times already and are the favourite to win again. How do you deal with that pressure?
It’s harder to defend your title than it is to challenge for it. When you’re at the top it’s difficult to stay motivated and push yourself. I’ve seen that with my results over the last ten years. I’ve won in three-year cycles [2010-2012, 2014-2016 and 2018]. Losing the title to Artem Silchenko [in 2013] ignited another fire in me and I worked hard to win in 2014, 2015 and 2016. After that three-year cycle I made a mistake and Jonathan [Paredes] managed to take the title. It’s difficult to stay 100% focused when you’re at the top, but it only takes one loss to relight that fire and make me work harder to get back to the top.
What do you do after a competition to relax?
After the competition, most of the divers have a beer together – or champagne if you’re lucky. When I come back home, I take pleasure from the little things that I don’t get to do when I’m away, like playing the piano and guitar.
How do you feel about returning to Ireland for the World Series?
I’m very happy to come back to Ireland. The previous Irish location, Inis Mor, was one of the most challenging places, but we always had a great welcome from the Irish team and fans. The people who came to watch at Inis Mor were so enthusiastic. They had to sit through the wind and rain and were still in good spirits. They’re a good crowd.
What do you make of the brand-new dive site in Dublin?
The new location is the complete opposite to Inis Mor, which was fairly inaccessible and difficult for the crowds to reach. This year it will be very easy, and it will be a big pleasure to dive in front of thousands of people. There will be space all around for spectators, so we’ll be in a natural amphitheatre.
How do you feel about the weather in Ireland in May?
We’re going to have to be lucky with the weather. Wind and rain could be problematic, but when there’s that many people coming to watch, you just deal with it. You do what you have to do and as soon as you step onto the platform and hear all the people, you don’t think about the rest of it. That feeling of being supported by so many fans is indescribable.