Steve Hooker

Steve Hooker on his way to winning gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in men's pole vault.

Athlete Biography

When Steve Hooker became Australia’s first Olympic pole-vault champion ever at the 2008 Games in Beijing, he made some other dents in history: his was the first track-and-field victory for Australia since Cathy Freeman won the 400m in Sydney 2000; the first by an Australian male since Ralph Doubell won the 800m in Mexico City 40 years prior; and the first by an Australian in a field event since John Winter won the high jump in London, sixty years before. He also set a new Olympic record of 5.96 metres.

The 26-year-old with shaggy ginger hair - he hadn’t cut it since early 2007 - realised that the prospect of a gold medal was close when his big threat, Russia’s Evgeny Lukyanenko, failed to clear the bar at 5.90m. Hooker, who had clipped the bar in two previous attempts, told himself: “Evgeny’s out of it. It’s in my own hands. If I clear that bar I’m the Olympic champion.” He cleared it at his third vault, but didn’t want to leave the Bird’s Nest stadium without the Olympic record … which he then duly broke, again at his third try.

Hooker, whose mother Erica was an Olympic long jumper and father Bill a Commonwealth Games representative, won the 2006 Commonwealth Games and World Cup gold medals, then moved from Melbourne to Perth to train with the Russian coach Alex Parnov, whom he describes as “the best pole vault coach in the world”. Parnov, who emigrated to Australia after the 1996 Olympics, overhauled Hooker’s technique, changing his run-up and his grip. On the biggest night of his career, it all came together beautifully.

After his golden performance at the Beijing Games, Hooker returned to the Olympic arena in 2012 lining up to defend his Olympic title in London. He made the final but did not record a jump to finish 13th overall.

Harry Gordon, AOC Historian