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Flashback: A Swiss Renaissance for Hunt and Richard

Gary Hunt and Lysanne Richard
Date: 05/08/2020

The return of cliff diving may still be a little while off, but as the sporting world begins to emerge from months of disruption, cancellation and uncertainty, it feels like an opportune time to reflect on two of the most dramatic comeback stories in Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series history. Coincidentally, they both occurred on the same sun-soaked afternoon, two years ago today, at the beautiful Lake Lucerne in Sisikon.

Gary Hunt and Lysanne Richard both arrived in Switzerland at the midway point of the 2018 season having endured their own contrasting personal difficulties, and expectations were not high for two of the sport's biggest names that day.

Canada's Richard had missed the whole of the previous season following a debilitating neck injury prior to the first stop. At 36 years old, and having battled through an ailment that affected not just her diving ability but also her normal daily life, it would have been understandable if the mother-of-three had called time on her cliff diving career. 

But positivity and tenacity flow in abundance through the veins of this Montreal-based athlete, and she was back on the 21m platform for the start of the season. A fifth-place finish at the Texas curtain-raiser was followed by her first podium in two years in the Azores; already a remarkable feat considering her 12 month absence from the sport. Surely she couldn't top that and rise above the likes of Mexico's Adriana Jimenez and the unstoppable Aussie Rhiannan Iffland.

She could.

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Lift-off for Lysanne in Sisikon. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

In front of thousands of sun-drenched fans on the lake, and in just her third appearance since that long lay-off, Richard completed the most remarkable comeback, beating Iffland into second place as she secured a stunning victory. Tears of joy and scenes of jubilation followed.

"It was so emotional to win here today," said Richard after her victory. "I couldn't stop crying. I'm really emotional because of everyone who helped me come back. Just being back was already a big win, not even winning. I was lucky today, had a good competition and I'm really grateful for all the help that I got and all the love I receive."

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Celebrating an emotional comeback victory. Photo: Luis Vidales/Red Bull Content Pool.

For Hunt, the tale of woe that preceded his arrival in Sisikon was not a physical one. No injury, no tiredness; instead, the Brit was grappling with a mental block that was seriously threatening to derail his stellar career. The catalyst for it all had been his infamous failed final dive of the 2017 season, in the waterfalls of Chile, when the record-breaking champion got his twisting all wrong, allowing Mexico's Jonathan Paredes to steal the title away.

As the 2018 season kicked off, Hunt spoke candidly of his mental block, explaining that for now he was shelving his big twisting dives. But, without his biggest weapon, he endured his worst-ever start to a season, finishing 8th and then 10th at the first two stops. 

Was this the end of the 'brilliant Brit'? Were we witnessing the unravelling of a previously unshakeable, unstoppable champion?

Enter Gary Hunt 2.0.

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A sea of fans watch on as Gary Hunt leaps to victory in Switzerland. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

A flicker of light returned in the form of a third-place finish in the Azores, before a self-proclaimed 'new version' of the diver appeared in Lake Lucerne. The twisting returned, the smile was back and the high scores were once again flashing up beside his name. It was a Swiss Renaissance for the World Series' most decorated star, and the mental block was as good as banished as he climbed up onto the top of the podium to celebrate his first victory of the season.

"This is not the old Gary Hunt," he said afterwards. "Today it was a different man, Gary 2.0. Once you have a mental block it never really goes away; you just learn to deal with it and you grow from it. I still have work to do on single twists and double twists, but I definitely have worked hard enough to be able to do what I did today."

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Back at the top, and he's been there ever since. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Three more victories followed as, remarkably, Hunt recovered to take title number seven.

In times like this especially, both stories serve as a heartening reminder that no matter how tough things get, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. Fans of cliff diving can rest assured that the sun will one day shine down again on this beautiful sport.