There’s no high diving event at the FINA world championships this year. So what was Gary Hunt doing in Budapest on Friday? The cliff diving legend and two-time FINA world champion on the 27-meter tower represented France in the 10m mixed synchro diving event.
BUDAPEST (Hungary) – As if it wasn’t stunning enough to see a 38-year-old diving against teenagers at the FINA World Championships this week, the relative codger happened to be British-born Gary Hunt. The cliff diving legend and two-time FINA world champion in (27m) high diving was suddenly sporting a French suit on the 10-meter platform and competing with Jade Gillet in mixed synchro diving.
And he said it probably won’t be the last time we’ll see him landing head-first in the pool.
After battling the same problem that plagued American gymnast Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics (known as the “twisties”) Hunt said he’s not done. In fact, he’s just getting started – with the Paris 2024 Olympics in mind. Read on.
When’s the last time you did an indoor diving competition like this?
2008 or 2009
How did you qualify for this edition of the FINA World Championships?
French trials, but our 10m board is not wide enough for synchro. Jade was already qualified. I just had to do the list of dives on my own and get a qualifying score.
I was worried that I would be out of place here, but there were some good things to take away from this event. And I loved it. It was taking me out of my comfort zone.
After diving from 27 meters and cliffs, you’d think 10 meters would be within your comfort zone.
No, not at all. It’s been 10 years since I’ve done a head-first dive. [High divers land feet first.] I actually had a twisting problem in 2017, the same thing Simone Biles went through in the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
Do you call it ‘the twisties?’ Or was that Americanism?
Well, it's kind of become known as that. I didn't have a name for it. I didn’t want to do any of my twisting dives but I still wanted to dive, so I started leading up my 10-meter dives again and I was surprised with the results. I was doing French nationals just for a bit of fun. And then I started to think: Yeah, maybe I can get back to where I was when I left, in 2009, and even get better than that.
It gets me up early, out of bed in the morning. It motivates me, because in 27 meters, we only have two dives to do. It gets monotonous just doing the same two dives. This keeps things very interesting. Now that they’ve got mixed synchro, this is perfect for me. I don’t have the strength of the other big-big dogs in the 10-meter but to do 10-meter with Jade [Gillet] who’s just learning 10-meter dives, it was a perfect opportunity to dip my toes back in the 10-meter and let’s see how I enjoyed it.
Do you still have to deal with the ‘twisties?’
Yeah, and there is twisting in high diving as well. It is a fascinating problem. It’s not just in diving or gymnastics. It’s in other sports and things. I'd done twists in all different directions to a point where after so many repetitions, your body should be able to do it without thinking. And then when something happens, you don't want it to happen again so you think about it. And when you think about it too much, the errors happen even more. It's like into a dark hole. I just had to go back to basics and do a lot of work to build up that confidence again. It's something that I think I will carry with me for the rest of my career.
I've kind of got my head around how to deal with it – although the twisting dive that we did here [the fourth of the five dives in the final – a 5152B, which is a forward 2½ somersaults with one twist], just the week before I came here, in training, I did an extra twist and landed with my legs flat, bruised all my legs. I didn't get a chance to re-do it until I came here. So this whole week has been a bit of a nightmare, really. I couldn't I couldn't really enjoy it because in my head was the fear of making a complete fool of myself – doing an extra twist in a competition with the best in the world. So I was very relieved when that dive was over. Unfortunately, we didn't finish on a good dive [a 107C, forward 3½ which only scored 46.17, placing eighth overall] so it's left a sour taste in my mouth. I want to come back and give it another go.
So we’ll see more indoor diving from you in the future?
I hope so. I’m down for the European Championships in Rome next month, in the same event [mixed synchro 10m]. It’s going to be very close to the 27-meter event. I do the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series stop in Oslo on a Saturday [August 13] and then the mixed synchro is on Tuesday. So hopefully everything goes well in the 27 meters, I don’t have any injuries. I would like to compete.
Are you competing in other events in Budapest?
No, that's it. But who knows with the Olympics in Paris in 2024? At the moment, I'm the only 10-meter diver in France so I'm trying to convince one of the older divers or one of the ex-divers to come back and do [men’s 10m] synchro with me because that would be a dream come true. I'd kind of given up on the Olympic dream. I was hoping that high diving would be an event.
Can you say who?
It's been a toss-up. Alexis Jandard, the 3-meter diver, is very capable. But the coach says maybe 3-meter individual, 3-meter synchro and 10-meter synchro would be a lot for him. So there's another diver who needs a bit of convincing because he's also 3-meter, but I'm sure we'll find somebody.