The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is just weeks away from entering its landmark 10th season, and it's been a decade that has largely been dominated by one man - Gary Hunt. As part of the lead up to the season kick-off in Texas, the remarkable 33-year-old has taken some time out from his preparations to discuss his achievements, future goals and his vision for the next ten years of the sport.
The World Series celebrates its 10th birthday this year – what do you write on the birthday card?
Happy birthday Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Double digits is a big landmark but you're still young. I wish you many more successful years!
Looking at the developments over the past nine/ten years, what has changed most? What was necessary to be on the top back then and what do you have to do now?
Strength and conditioning is more important. As the dives get more difficult they require power and precision.
What's the biggest achievement of the World Series?
Getting the attention of FINA. In my opinion the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Champion is the most prestigious title in cliff diving but for the sport to be accepted as an official aquatic sport was a huge event in cliff diving history.
Where do you get the drive to improve?
There's no such thing as standing still in sport, you're either improving or you're falling behind. To be the best you have to put in overtime, you have to know that you're working harder than everyone else. I don't know how other divers are training but I do enough each year to gain the confidence needed to perform under pressure.
Besides victories, records and reaching the status of a legend – what do you see as your biggest achievement of the past ten years?
Learning to speak French. Until you have learnt your first language it seems impossible. Now I'm learning Spanish and Russian. It get's easier once you've got the first one down.
Are there moments of regret?
I've made mistakes in competition but I don't regret a single one of them. The losses have made me stronger. That said, I am often reminded by Sabine of the Omani blanket we were given for the presentation. I left it on the cliff and jumped off, if I could go back and change something it would probably be this.
Where do you see the sport ten years from today?
At the Olympics, Junior competitions, Continental competitions.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from today? Will you still be involved in cliff diving?
I will always be involved in some shape or form, I love watching it as much as I do performing and I would love to be part of its growth after I hang up my speedo.
What keeps you motivated after such a long and successful career?
For me happiness is the feeling of progression. I take pleasure in striving to be better. If I think of the people who dream of being in a position like I have found myself to be in, I feel I owe it to them to not waste my talent and to push myself .
What's your personal best World Series moment?
The afterparty(s) in Yucatan, I don't know which one to chose from they were both so eventful.
Your personal best dive of all World Series times – what was it and why?
The last dive I performed in Oman to win the World Series. It was such a close competition and I did just enough to win.
Have priorities changed in the past years?
Of course priorities have changed. The World Series has seen a lot of us grow from boys to men. At some point you have to start thinking about conserving your body a little more; longevity isn't easy in a sport with such risks.
What is it that you still want to achieve in cliff diving?
There are still a few tricks up my sleeve but revealing them to you now would spoil the fun.
The World Series is growing up – what's the necessary next step? What's missing? A competition on all continents, a season that starts earlier in the year and ends later,....
I think the off season is very important. Otherwise divers would wear themselves out. After many changes I think we've finally found a format that fits but the scenery is what can be changed. There are many beautiful places around the world that we are yet to discover.
What do you miss during the off-season?
I miss the people and the places, the off season is great for growth and repair but you soon miss discovering new places and all the people who make the World Series happen.
54 podiums in 65 starts, a total of 30 first places, six World Series wins, three second places - the list seems endless. Each of these incredible numbers alone could offer you the status of a legend in your sport. Word is that you are a modest man who doesn´t like to brag about his success. But don´t you sometimes wake up and just feel awesome about yourself? Can you describe this moment?
On tour you can really get wrapped up in the world of sport but at home I'm just a normal person. If I thought about the things I've achieved all day I'd never get anything done. I read once that the New Zealand All Blacks clean their locker room themselves after every game. They say, and I agree, that it's impossible to achieve stratospheric success without having your feet planted firmly on the ground.
You're the hunted man – everybody wants to beat you, take the overall title from you. Has that become 'normal' to you?
We push each other to be the best. Without the pressure that I feel from the others I wouldn't be half the diver I am today. As a kid diving with my friend Gavin Brown and Blake we would try to outdo each other with more and more complicated and interesting dives. This taught me the power of peer pressure in sport. Whether I'm the hunter or the hunted I'm still going to push others as I want to be pushed myself.
What's your plan of attack for 2018? You've won the World Series three times in a row twice. Will you start a new 'series' this year?
Progression often seems to be linear but it's cyclical. There is a learning stage where results and performance decline, followed by a stage of growth. If I can manage one more series I'd be extremely happy.
La Rochelle is not part of the tour this year; however you've got an incredible 'run' in this special place. What is it that makes you so strong there? Is it the huge crowd or your friends that always come to this spot to support you?
The crowd is a massive help. They bring out the best in me. I've always been a bit of a show off, having two older sisters I learned to enjoy putting on a show and how to play to the crowd from a young age.
You're one of the most experienced athletes on tour, a lot of high divers are looking up to you. Who of the young talents has caught your attention? What can you learn from them?
For a few years now the hottest new prospect is Aidan Heslop from the UK. He lives just down the road from the Adrenaline Quarry, a high diving facility. With his passion for the sport and the facilities at his fingertips he has great potential.
The Olympic Games are coming to your adopted home. Your sport in the Olympic Games - is that a goal that you still want to achieve? Why?
A lot of things will change if our sport goes into the Olympics, there will be funding from countries all over the world to build facilities specifically for High Diving. It will be amazing to see how big the sport can get and you'd see a whole variety of new dives. It's definitely a goal that I'm hoping for.