STEVE HOOKER and Paul Burgess have come up with a novel way of staying on top of their game, at least when it comes to pole vaulting.
The Perth-based pair have finished the international season as the world No.1 (Hooker) and No.2 (Burgess) — the first time Australians have achieved the feat since 1968 when Maureen Caird and Pam Ryan (nee Kilborn) won gold and silver in the 80m hurdles at the Mexico Olympics.
Back home after sweeping all before them during the European season, Hooker and Burgess decided they needed to make a few extra sacrifices if they were to continue their dominance to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and equal the Caird-Ryan medal haul.
Along with fatty food and excessive partying, they have sworn off love, or at least long-term relationships. The crazy idea came from Hooker, a high-spirited, lanky lad who won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in March and finished the season with victory at the IAAF World Cup in Athens in September.
“We are trying to stay focused on our athletics so we’ve decided girls are a no-go zone,” Hooker said yesterday in Brisbane where he was promoting the domestic season.
“Sorry I didn’t mean girls — I meant girlfriends. You know exclusive, steady, long-term relationships are a no-go zone. We are going to try to keep our athletics as our main focus and keep the grief women provide out of the picture. If one of us does happen to slip into one of those horrible, horrible relationships, you have to pay the other person $5000.”
Hooker moved from Melbourne to Perth in May to train alongside Burgess and it paid off for both in Europe. Burgess, who was injured at the Commonwealth Games, had a brilliant international season and won the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart.
Other top pole vaulters want to get in on their act. World champion in 2003, Italy’s Giuseppe Gibilisco relocated to Perth last month to work with their coach, Alex Parnov, and has moved into Burgess’ house.
Americans Brad Walker and Toby Stevenson are likely to come to compete in Perth, as well as A-Series meets in Sydney (February 17) and Melbourne (March 2), making for world-class pole vaulting competitions.
While the no-girls bet is a light-hearted pact, the pair is serious about leading Australian athletics into a new era of success, building on the 16-gold medal haul at the Commonwealth Games.
Hooker said the fact he and Burgess are on top of the world was a sign of good times ahead for the sport.
“We’ve got so many good young athletes coming through, there were so many promising performances this year in Europe and the fact that the major championships are going to be in our time zone over the next few years will give us an opportunity to excel,” he said.
At the end of the season, 10 Australians were ranked in the top 10 in their event in what was arguably the best international season for the country. Craig Mottram won the 3000m at the World Cup, and long jumper Bronwyn Thompson was ranked No.2 in the world after finishing second at the World Athletics Final.
President of Athletics Australia Rob Fildes said the sport was on the rise. “It is better than we could have hoped for, driven by our talented and inspirational young athletes who have taken on and beaten the best in the world this year,” Fildes said.
“However just as 2006 was crucial, so are the next two years and to borrow a footy cliche, we are only as good as our last game.”
The domestic series begins with the Zatopek Classic in Melbourne on Thursday week, and culminates in Brisbane in March with the national championships, which double as the selection trials for the world championships in Osaka, Japan.
by: Jenny Mcasey
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