“Before, we were considered a bit crazy”… No, extreme divers are not hotheads

Having already passed through La Rochelle, Bonifacio and Saint-Raphaël, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is settling in Paris for the first time. On Friday and Saturday, 24 athletes will jump from a platform located in Port Debilly, opposite the Eiffel Tower. Under their feet, 27 meters for men, 21 for women. Two and a half seconds of free fall to chain the figures to seduce the judges. But don’t tell them they’re hotheads.

“We like this feeling of adrenaline but what is enjoyable is being able to control these dangers, to train to the point where we eliminate them. Apart from this sport, I do not parachute. I like gardening or playing the piano, very quiet things,” smiles Gary Hunt, the only Frenchman on the set. “Before, we were put in a box, analyzes Cyrille Oumedjkane, who dived for 18 years. We were considered a bit crazy. Now we are seen more as athletes. »

Franco-British diver Gary Hunt, nine-time winner of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, here in Ireland in September 2021. – Red Bull Content Pool

An entry into the water at more than 85 km/h

How does one manage to jump into water from the height of a nine-story building? Passage through the swimming pool box is compulsory. This is where Gary Hunt (38), like all his colleagues, started diving at one, three or ten meters. “I was scolded by the teacher when I spoke with my buddy after each length, he rewinds. When I saw the divers in the pool next door, I could tell they were having a lot more fun than me. So I started the dive. »

Then emerges the desire to push “body and mind to the limits” by jumping higher. Make more figures, take more speed, the entry into the water being done at more than 85 km/h. Under the watchful eye of frogmen responsible for ensuring the safety of the athletes. “In Colombia in 2015, with the pressure of entering the water, a disc in my spine came out in my back. For three days, I could no longer walk,” recalls Cyrille Oumedjkane.

Even a world champion can “get lost in the air”

Hence the imperative to set off with immense concentration and to perfectly manage one’s emotions. “From the moment you reach the end of the platform, there is automatically a bubble. You no longer pay attention to what is around, ”explains Hassan Mouti, a diver for ten years, now competition director at Red Bull.

Easier said than done, as the setbacks of Mexican Jonathan Paredes prove. The 2017 world champion was “lost in the air” last year in Saint-Raphaël. And if there was not the slightest physical injury on the spot, this fear still disturbs him, which point that he refused the last two dives in Boston at the beginning of June, confident of feeling “a mental block”.

A physical then mental delay to return to competition

Hassan Mouti experienced a similar ordeal after an accident in Athens: “I burst my lung, I spent two days in the hospital. I recovered physically after six months, but it took me another six months mentally to get back to diving properly”. Beyond the mental aspect, divers obviously work physically and technically. In conditions much less extreme than the competition. “Physically, you cannot dive to 27 meters every day. It’s trying, ”says Hassan Mouti.

The dive is therefore broken down into three phases, worked on in turn: the start, the acrobatic part, and the entry into the water. A few years ago, Gary Hunt trained by doing shows in amusement parks, from the top of a 20-meter tower where he could dive every day. Today, the nine-time winner of the World Series prepares mainly at the Maurice-Thorez swimming pool in Montreuil (Seine-Saint-Denis), which has a diving board at 10 meters. Adding a bit of trampoline, weight training and gymnastics to complete the puzzle.

“We are in Paris, what! »

With the objective of winning in Paris, two weeks after his second place in Boston. “I have another slip that I designed, but I tell myself that in France, I will wear blue-white-red,” he smiles. A wink that should appreciate the public, expected in number. “The excitement is huge. The first time in La Rochelle, the mayor at the time was not in favor of the event. When he saw that 70,000 people were there to watch the Cliff Diving, he asked that we come back the following year, ”underlines Cyrille Oumedjkane, who now officiates as a judge on the World Series.

“Having the competition in Paris is the icing on the cake,” says Hassan Mouti. We arrived in one of the biggest capitals in the world, where there will be the Olympic Games in two years. It marks the path taken. We are in Paris, what! If we do that in Paris, we can do that in New York, everywhere. We are in another world, it’s really the icing on the cake. For those who defy weightlessness, there are no limits.

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