“On a very high balcony, I feel dizzy, because I feel like I won’t be able to stop myself from jumping. On the other hand, as soon as there is water underneath, it disappears ”. A strange serenity when you throw yourself into a pool located 27 m lower, the equivalent of 9 floors. “From up there, when you dive in a pool rather than in the sea, it looks like the pool is smaller than this table seen from above”, illustrates Gary Hunt, overlooking the small round piece of furniture in the bistro in Montreuil (Seine- Saint-Denis) where we met him.
This native Englishman, living in the Paris region for more than ten years, is quite simply the best high-flying diver in the world. Last year, the man who turned 32 on Friday decided he would now represent France in competition rather than Great Britain. “With Brexit, I took nationality at the end of 2018, telling myself that it would be useful for traveling,” he explains with a very slight British accent. The idea of diving for France was to wear the same colors as the people I train with throughout the year. At that time, I was still hoping that the 27m dive would be at the Paris Olympics. To end my career there, diving for France, in Paris, that would have been extraordinary. “
He admits that “the moment was strange”, when the Marseillaise replaced God save the Queen, on the podium at the end of the year, in Crimea, during the only competition of the past year. The neotricolore will show off its new colors this weekend in Saint-Raphaël, for the opening of Red Bull Cliff diving, the benchmark world circuit for which it has won 8 of the last 10 editions.
The “cliff dive” is a discipline where birdmen fly off a rocky promontory, a building or an artificial platform and sting like gannets, except that the arrival is almost done. exclusively with the feet in front to limit the risks at “impact”. A term particularly suitable for entering water at 90 km / h.
So, daredevil Gary? There again, it is contrasted: “Diving to 27 m is always violent, even when it’s perfect. It’s like receiving a punch in boxing. The slightest degree of verticality, you can feel it in the buttocks, the back of the neck… Once, I had to hold on to the frogmen who are at the reception and I no longer remember how I had returned to the beach. Danger is a big part of the reasons I love the sport. If he weren’t there, there wouldn’t be that feeling that overwhelms us as soon as we succeed. But some other divers are looking for adrenaline at all costs, also doing skydiving or other extreme sports. I have my dose. Outside, it’s more gardening, piano and guitar. “
He forgets stress while juggling
To these passions, Gary Hunt has recently added a strong interest in languages. He learns “Russian and Spanish, in order to be able to communicate with all the other competitors, who sometimes stay in clans”. In the long moments of waiting which in the past had brought him to terrible anxieties (“before the first dive of the season, my head was ready, but my whole body was trembling”), the Ile-de-France escaped juggling. “I’m very good with 5 balls, but I would like to be just as comfortable with 6 or 7,” he explains. Thanks to that, I forget all the stress. The show is also something I think about for my retraining. My body will not always be able to withstand these impacts. I also took a clown course, I really liked it. “
VIDEO. Gary Hunt, the super high-flying diver, talks about his extreme sport
The path of the champion takes all these mixed paths. Son of a caregiver who slept in his car during his training, Gary started diving at the age of 9, because the discipline attracted him more than the swimming lengths he did. But it is the high flight and the spectacle that led him to France. And first to his companion Sabine.
“The first time I jumped more than 10 m, it was in Italy, in 2006, in a show where we plunged from 18 m into a very small pool, he rewinds. The scale was that wide (it mimics about thirty cm) and the platform a square of about 40 cm by 40 cm. It was horrible. At the first show, I wondered why I was doing this. Climbing this ladder was an ordeal. The pool was only 3 m deep and in these conditions there are often broken legs for beginners. There, I met divers who told me about competition 22 or 24 m where I went. One of them was participating in an aquatic show in Walygator, near Metz. I visited him in 2009. I found the team great and I came back to spend more time, before joining the show… It was there that I met my wife. I played Tarzan, she was the host and played Jane… ”
More than 20 hours per week on the diving board at 10 m
It was with her that he moved to Saint-Ouen in 2010 and then to Montreuil in 2014, where he trained on the 10m diving board, more than 20 hours a week. There, he polishes every part of his two favorite jumps: a triple front somersault with four and a half twists and a triple back somersault with four twists. In small pieces, because the assembly of high flight is only practiced in competition. Enough to create cold sweats.
“We only train the day before the competition. To replace this, we reconstruct the jump in the head by visualizing it. We do it in training, closing our eyes. I can’t help but do it all week before when I go to bed. When I have to try a new dive, I don’t sleep on it. The greatest fear is to get lost in the air, to no longer succeed in locating yourself. “
Even if breakdancing and surfing have deprived Paris 2024 of high-level diving, Gary Hunt has not given up on the idea of participating in the Olympics. He resumed competition at 10 m, without leaving the universe that made him king and that he intends to explore until the dawn of his 40 years. Reassured since he conquered the fear which “terrified” him sometimes before jumping thanks to breathing techniques, the Frenchman likes to play with the public on the competitions but can stay an hour on the terrace without being recognized.
Another contrast that suits this funny bird perfectly: “I have the best of both worlds, since I am a competitive and anonymous star here. I would hate to have no more privacy. “