Now in its 11th season, loyal followers of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series may be forgiven for thinking they'd seen it all; dives of ever-growing complexity, record-breaking winning streaks and new high scores being posted on a regular basis. Despite these stunning achievements, one special box on the list of World Series milestones had been left conspicuously unticked for all these years. That was, until, the remarkable Gary Hunt stepped up to the platform in Beirut, Lebanon, and finally laid his hands on the sport's Holy Grail.
The quest for the perfect cliff dive - five straight 10s from the judges - is nothing new. Ever since those first tentative leaps back in 2009, the fearless athletes of this majestic discipline have sought perfection. Standing up there on the edge of the platform, eyes closed for a few brief moments, they play out the dream dive in their minds. Every twist, every tuck, every little motion will be precisely executed en route to a laser-guided entry into the water. Such is life though, transferring a vision to reality is never easy.
Former World Series champion, Russia's Artem Silchenko, perhaps summed it up best when he once said: "One dive is a million details. You have to know all the details. If you have a small mistake it's already not a 10."
10s in Red Bull Cliff Diving
• 4,390 men's and women's competition dives to date and 126 scores of 10
• Most 10s in one dive: Hunt (5) in Beirut in 2019
• Most 10s scored - Silchenko (37), Hunt (34) and Paredes (22)
• Women's 10s scored – Rhiannan Iffland (5), Ginger Huber (1)
• 2017 was the only year without any 10s
While not a common occurrence, one, two or three 10s have been awarded for a single dive on a number of occasions. In 77 World Series competitions to date, in which 4,390 individual dives have been completed, the top note has been awarded a total of 126 times. Before Beirut, however, the true perfect dive had only been flirted with a couple of times.
Silchenko himself was the first to come agonisingly close when four judges flashed 10s for one of his dives in Copenhagen in 2013. Three years later, Mexico's Jonathan Paredes popped his head out of the Possum Kingdom Lake waters in Texas following a trademark rip entry to be greeted by a similar set of scorecards from the panel.
Which brings us to the judges themselves. What is their description of perfection?
"It's a wow-factor," says Australian Steve Foley, who has been a part of the judging panel since 2011. "It's a dive that almost gets you out of your chair, you want to start clapping and applauding because it's really exciting; it's just grabbed your attention and it's got all the aspects you want, the great take-off, the power, the aesthetics, the beauty and of course the great rip entry.
"To me, it's a dive that just moves you when it happens. It's a quick moment that it happens in; if you ponder too much and think about things you probably never give a 10."
It's this that makes Hunt's feat from Pigeon Rocks all the more remarkable. Not only was it a technically precise dive from take-off to entry, but more importantly it seems the stars aligned in a way that each of the five judges who witnessed it were struck by that magical wow factor. And talking of stars aligning, how fitting it is that Hunt, 7-time champion and holder of multiple World Series records, was the one who finally claimed the most elusive record of all.
Following his flawless display, Hunt credited his rivals for pushing the boundaries and helping drive him to perfection:
"I absolutely feel pressure," said the 35-year-old. "It's so much easier for me when there is a fight, when there are other divers doing well. It's more enjoyable as well. I want to be in a battle, I don't want to have it easy and so I try to use it."
Gary Hunt's World Series records
• 7 World Series titles
• 38 wins in 77 stops
• Highest score optional dive - 156.00pts (Beirut, 2019)
• Highest competition score - 453.70pts (Copenhagen, 2018, with two 10s)
• Performer of the hardest cliff dive to date - 5.6 degree of difficulty in Texas 2017 (double in, double out; not performed currently)
"Gary, man, what can we do against him," said Paredes after witnessing his rival's seemingly supernatural powers yet again. "It seems like he has no pressure, like he has no feelings. Whenever you see him, he seems to be on another planet. After (my) three 10s in Portugal, he goes there and does that dive... it's just like 'what can we do against that?'"
As Hunt cruises to what will almost certainly be title number 8 this season, that same question will be on the lips of every other cliff diver too. The Brit has completed the quest for perfection, and now his rivals must ramp up their quest to catch him.