Many athletes at the elite level have opportunities to etch their name in the history books but very few soared to greatness as often as Steve Hooker OAM did when he ruled the pole vault world.
Hooker’s record in track and field is world-class and that will be recognised with induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the 33rd Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner – proudly presented by Etihad Airways on Thursday 12th October 2017 at Palladium at Crown.
For a four-year stretch the son of Australian athletics representatives Bill and Erica dominated the event, joining the six-metre club and then becoming Olympic champion in 2008.
He would become one of the few to simultaneously hold the Olympic, indoor and outdoor world championships, Commonwealth Games and world cup titles.
At those Games in Beijing he broke the Olympic record with a vault of 5.96 metres to win gold after a thrilling final, which turned him into a household name easily identified by his long curly red hair.
Yet it was a disappointing result at the London Olympics in 2012, his last, that ultimately put his spectacular result in Beijing and his career overall in perspective.
“In the qualifying round I felt good,” Hooker recalled from London.
“Then I just woke up sick with a head cold the day in between qualifying and the final just wasn’t meant to be.
“That for me just made me realise how lucky I was four years earlier, when the window was open I had a chance and took it.
“When you’ve got one day in four years these things can happen and when you’re ready you find a way to get through them.”
Renaud Lavillenie had taken the reigns from Hooker by this stage in his career as the man to beat on tour, and the Australian received welcoming closure on his time at the top watching the Frenchman win gold in London.
“I was happy I was out there in the final, I was glad I was on the infield when Renaud jumped 5.97 to break the Olympic record,” Hooker added.
“That was important, letting go of something that is important and how I defined myself for a small period as the Olympic champion.
“It was good to be there and witness it when it moved on.”
Hooker’s career was in full swing leading in to the Beijing Olympics after winning the Commonwealth Games title at the MCG in front of a home crowd in 2006 and then clearing six metres early in 2008.
That year Hooker only lost twice outdoors, two second places, including a defeat on count back at the London Grand Prix with a clearance of 5.97 metres just before the Beijing Games.
“There were three of us that were a chance in Beijing, we all knew that,” he said.
“We all competed in the last competition before in London, it was intense.
“I felt good, I woke up the morning of the final and in Beijing I just had a feeling it would be my day, I don’t know what it was, I don’t know how to explain it.”
Those Olympics are even more significant for Hooker who met his now wife and mother of his two sons, former Russian middle-distance runner Ekaterina Kostetskaya.
During his four-year run of 36 victories from 61 starts Hooker appeared superhuman as he claimed every championship title – Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games and indoor world championships.
Joining the six-metre club for the first time in Perth early in 2008 was a special moment, as was posting the still Australian record with his personal best of 6.06 at the Boston Indoor Games twelve months later.
Following gold in Beijing, Hooker lost just twice over the next 20 months of competition, which included winning the 2009 world championship in Berlin with an injured adductor.
“I had no plan to win at any point during that competition,” Hooker admitted.
“Initially I thought, I might just see if I could make the final – and that was just me being stubborn to be honest.”
Hooker admits that taking up pole vault requires a certain personality type, one does have to be a little bit crazy, and obviously a risk taker given the dangerous nature of being flung six metres in the air by a flexed pole.
That came to the fore right at the end of his career when Hooker battled through a case of the ‘yips’, struggling with confidence down the runway.
“It’s weird yeah, I don’t even know why it’s a thing,” Hooker said of pole vault.
“I’m grateful it’s a thing but I don’t know why it’s a thing.”
Induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame alongside the country’s best sportspeople is something that Hooker will celebrate with those who helped him be the best in the world.
“What an honour to be included in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame with so many of my heroes and idols,” he said.
“This is great recognition for the achievements that I accomplished with the help of dozens of people over a long period of time.
“My coaches Mark Stewart and Alex Parnov kept me moving forward during the low points and their help enabled me to do things that at one time or another seemed impossible.
“My parents Erica and Bill always supported me when I couldn’t get off the ground and kept me grounded when I was flying.
“I look forward to celebrating my induction on the night with my parents, Mark and Alex.”
Steve Hooker OAM will be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s night of nights – the sold out 33rd Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner – proudly presented by Etihad Airways, on Thursday 12th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Established in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
2017 will mark the 33rd edition of this event, with eight Australian sporting icons, from on and off the field, to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In addition to the eight inductees one current Member will be elevated to Legend status, becoming the official 39th Legend of Australian Sport.