VAULTER VAULTER

Olympics-Pole vaulter Hooker seeking boost before Shanghai

MELBOURNE | Thu May 10, 2012 3:47am EDT

May 10 (Reuters) – Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker will bid to haul himself out of a crisis of confidence before the London Games at a disused warehouse in Perth on Friday in front of an exclusive crowd of athletes and officials, all with their fingers crossed.

The shaggy-haired redhead is a cult figure in Australia since becoming the country’s first man to win Olympic athletics gold in 40 years with his jump of 5.90 metres in Beijing.

However, the man once spoken of as a genuine threat to Sergei Bubka’s longstanding world record has not jumped near that height in nearly two injury-ravaged years.

He admitted in February that he was suffering a prolonged bout of the yips in the leadup to London.

Hooker skipped Australia’s Olympic trials in March and scrapped almost all of the domestic season to work through his demons in a warehouse that used to house train carriages in the eastern suburb of Midland.

Hooker still needs to jump the Olympic qualifying mark of 5.72 metres to put himself in the frame for London.

At a sponsor-driven event at the warehouse on Friday, days before he jets off to Shanghai for next week’s Diamond League meeting, Hooker will open the doors of the warehouse to jump in front of a clutch of media, team mates and officials.

The 29-year-old had felt confident enough to ask local athletics authorities to sanction the event as an Olympic qualifier, raising the possibility of a triumphant send-off.

“He is in a far more confident place in his mind and with his pole vault than he was some months ago,” Athletics Western Australia CEO Wayne Loxley told Reuters on Thursday.

Hooker will share the stage with women pole vaulters Alana Boyd, who smashed the Australian record in Perth earlier this year, and her training partner Liz Parnov, who topped national trials in Melbourne in March.

‘PRIVATE PARTY’

The event will have a “private party” atmosphere, one of the organisers said, with Boyd set to jump a day after her 28th birthday. Members of the public are barred, with the exception of a few sponsorship invitees.

Loxley brushed off the notion that Hooker had been given a “free kick” in his bid to make the grade – handed a sanctioned event at a venue his sponsor had organised for him.

“It’s not like it’s a clandestine competition,” Loxley said. “It’s not like it’s Steve Hooker’s (personal) venue. Steve is one of a number of pole vaulters that train and use it.”

Hooker’s leap of 6.06m indoors in the 2009 season was the second highest on record behind retired world record holder Bubka, who cleared 6.14 outdoors and 6.15 indoors in the 1990s.

A cool customer in competition, Hooker waited until the bar was raised to 5.90 to seal the world championship in Berlin in 2009 after having a pain-killing injection for a torn thigh muscle.

Rushed preparations last year, however, saw his title defence in Daegu shattered when he failed to clear 5.50 and make the final, and a prolonged knee injury has restricted him from the high-risk training that demands bullet-proof confidence.

Should Hooker fail in Perth, he will have chances in Shanghai and then Rome to reach the qualifying standard before he ends up at a training camp in Germany, but will have to do so with the glare of the spotlight trained on his every move.

By Peter Rutherford

From http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/10/oly-athl-atmpol-hooker-shang-idUSL4E8GA6NH20120510

Steve Hooker

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