STEVE Hooker is back on the team, but not quite back. The former world and Olympic pole vaulting champion last week cleared the qualifying height to get him on the plane to London, but doesn’t yet feel his mojo is back fully.
Hooker doesn’t have the imperious strut he had in his all-conquering pomp when he stalked the track and intimidated opponents. He doesn’t have it yet, but it is coming.
”In 2009, I didn’t just feel good, I felt invincible. But that was the culmination of four years, not four months [of preparation]. But that said, I’m building now and that’s the most important thing,” he said.
”For three years, I was in the position where I had momentum but the momentum was going in the wrong direction and it’s so hard to turn around. In a lot of ways hitting rock bottom had to happen at some point, where the only way was up. Now I feel I’m on that trajectory. I’m happy with it and I feel I can build on all the things I’ve been working on.
”I want to feel again like I felt in previous years where I am walking out on the competition areas and I feel like I can be the best guy on the day, and I am not going to feel that in my first competition – that wouldn’t be realistic – but I hope through this process I can walk out there in the Olympic stadium and think ‘I am as good as any of these guys and I can jump one more height than the next guy’. That is what I want to think.”
A lot has changed. Just months ago, Hooker didn’t know if he would make it to London, uncertain if he would have time enough to find his form after being overwhelmed by a mental uncertainty to jump.
”If things keep going the way they are going then a 5.90 [metre jump] is not out of the question,” Hooker said yesterday ahead of flying out to China for the first of seven meets he will compete in ahead of the Olympics.
”I know with what I am doing I have the potential to put up big jumps and I know the Olympics is the sort of occasion that is going to bring the best out of me if I do everything right over the next couple of months.”
To get back to vaulting again, Hooker and his coach Alex Parnov had to start again. He started jumping off two steps then four and gradually built up to the full runway.
”I don’t like the yips analogy, but to compare with golfing it’s like rebuilding a putt, you have got to have a million one-foot putts then move back to two foot and three foot and four foot. So it is just basic skill building by repetition,” he said.
”The first two to three weeks were really hard but at the end of my third week I jumped a personal best off two steps. Even if it went really well I didn’t think I would jump a personal best at any point during this preparation.
”When that happened so early I thought ‘if this continues, I’ll be fine’ and that’s what I kept putting my confidence, [saying] ‘just keep doing everything you’ve been doing, keep focusing on the same thing and eventually you’ll get there’.”
Hooker next competes in a Diamond League meet in Shanghai before setting up a training base in Cologne, Germany. He says his program is heavier than he would normally take into an Olympics, but his whole year has been about cramming in as much work as he can.
By Michael Gleeson