8-time Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion, Gary Hunt, recently announced that he will be representing France in future competition. The 'Brilliant Brit', as he has been affectionately known for the past decade, took some time out to talk to us about his decision, the process, potential new nicknames and all things French.
Tell us about your decision to represent France from 2020 onwards.
The decision to represent France came on as a result of me getting French nationality. I have now dual nationality; it gave me the option to choose a country to represent and the decision was made on a few different factors. Having trained with the French team for many years, I seriously started training every day with them from around 2014; I always felt part of the team and at the same time not quite, as I would go away and represent Great Britain, and so I wanted to share my successes with them, not just the training environment, and to really feel part of the team. I felt kind of stuck in representing Great Britain; the federation couldn't really help me as I was living abroad and, for sponsors, I wasn't available to meet with people, with British companies. So, it made things just a bit tricky.
There were different factors as well with Brexit, it wasn't really a political decision to become French. That was one of the many reasons. Deciding to represent France, it was more like a team feeling. I wanted to share that with the people I train with. Also, it came at the same time as me thinking about doing 10m competitions again, and there are very few French divers doing the 10m events; so the pathway for me back into international competitions is a lot simpler as a French diver than it would be as an English diver.
The talent pool in Great Britain is really deep right now. And this was mixed with France getting the 2024 Olympic Games. Participating at the Olympic Games is the only thing, the only big competition left on my resume as an athlete. The idea of representing France in the Olympic Games in Paris is a dream. Who knows if this is a dream that is reachable, but since making that decision to represent France and seeing that that could be a possibility, it definitely motivates me.
Was it a straightforward process?
The process hasn't really been straightforward. Getting the French nationality was a little bit tricky, but I think I had the support of the ministry of sports to make things faster. With the FINA rules you have to have one year not representing the country, not representing any country, so I didn't want to miss the World Championships last year. So that made things drag out a little bit longer and they still are ongoing; I still haven't officially left the British federation. My one year will be up in July, and as it looks like there will be no competitions between now and July, I will not miss anything, which was a possibility at one point as the World Cup was supposed to be held in June.
There haven't been any official things on the FINA side; articles released saying that I'm leaving, it's only from what was communicated on the World Series side. I've yet to hear any opinions from the higher-ups in the federation, so I'll see how that goes this year.
You've been known for many years now as the 'Brilliant Brit'. Can we still call you that, and do you have any ideas for a new nickname? 'Flying Frenchman' perhaps?
You guys were the ones who came up with the brilliant Brit nickname, so I'll leave it to you to figure out something how to change that. But I'm still the brilliant Brit if you want. I didn't have to relinquish my British nationality, so I don't want to relinquish that nickname either. Who knows what the journalists or you guys will come up with, that is not my business.
You've been very supportive of the up and coming British divers over the years. Can you give us a little insight into the cliff diving talent pool in France?
There are lots of divers interested in high diving, and two that I've been training with for many years. Matthieu Rosset, who was double European champion, 1m and 3m, is very serious about it. Also, his friend Antoine Catel; he is one of my friends that I hang out with here in Paris. Both of them are very enthusiastic.
Antoine had more of an unfortunate start; they went down to the south of France, did their first 27m jump, but he over-rotated, landed and took a shot to his butt. That put him off a little bit, but he is re-motivated again and was really hoping he could come to La Rochelle and do a dive in front of the public and get back on the tracks to becoming a cliff diver.
There is another guy who is more like the style of Michal Navratil, he just taught himself. He lives in the south of France, coming up with a lot of tricks, doing cliff searches and things like that.
There are those three guys who are capable of 27 meters, and a whole group of less experienced divers who come together and train every Saturday. They just love it; last year they went on a camping trip to the south of France, checking out all the cliffs. There is a decent sized community building up here.
What's French in you?
The question what is French in you, is kind of strange for me. If it was my roots or my family tree maybe, I do have French relatives if you go back four or five generations.
How's your French? When did you give your first interview in French?
I was asked to speak some French on the podium here in La Rochelle, in front of thousands of people, which was terrifying. I think I memorized some small speech, 10-15 words beforehand, and I managed to say a few words into the microphone, so I was quite proud of myself. Don't know what year that was, and then every time I came back to La Rochelle I'd try a little bit harder and gave more and more interviews in French.
Any British habit(s)/tradition(s) you'd never give up?
The English Breakfast was something that I held on to for a long time, but the bacon and the sausages you can get in France are not the same and not as good as the British ones. So, every time I went home, I used to bring back hundreds of bits of bacon to freeze, so I'd always have what I'd need for an English breakfast. But little by little I stopped doing it, so now my breakfasts are a lot more French than they used to be.
When holidaying is an option again, can you give any tips for those thinking of a trip to France? Where would you suggest?
For holidaying tips, I have been quite a few times in the Burgundy wine region, which is not too far away from Paris. It's just a two-hour drive. So many amazing villages, tiny beautiful places in the middle of wine fields. It's definitely worth a trip! Dijon, the main city around there, you have to try great wines with crackers and delicious mustard at the same time
I'm not a big fan of the south of France. Well, of course, there are amazing places, but I'm a Northerner. I'm from England and I grew up in the North of England, and I think I have a preference for the north of France as well. Maybe it's the brick houses that remind me of home. We spend a lot of time in Normandy; if you want good cliffs, they are not the best cliff diving cliffs, as there is no deep-water underneath, but the Cliffs of Ètretat are really something special.