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Hooker calls Phoenix home

19 February 2013

ATHLETICS: The disappointment of the London Olympics made a couple of things crystal clear for Australia's greatest pole vaulter Steve Hooker.

To give himself a chance of pushing on to the 2016 Games in Rio, he had to find a way to stay fit. And he had to sort out his run-up. In short, he needed to make some big changes.

So Hooker turned to American super-coach Dan Pfaff, who masterminded Donovan Bailey's 100m triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and is now better known as the coach of some of the world's best jumping athletes.

Pfaff's stable includes Greg Rutherford - the man who trumped Mitchell Watt in the London Games long jump final - British pole vaulters Steve Lewis and Holly Bleasdale and high jumper Donald Thomas from the Bahamas, the 2007 world champion.

After an amicable split with Alex Parnov - who coached him to the gold medal triumphs at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships - Hooker insists he is thriving in the new environment in Phoenix.

“After training solo for two years it has been a very refreshing opportunity to join a competitive training environment where everyday is a bit of a challenge to be the best. I'm training with the best guys in the world across a bunch of different events," Hooker said on Monday.

"I'm in a real learning phase - the amount of stuff I've learnt over the last three months is huge.

"I've really been going back to school with a lot of running technique.

"Not to forget everything I knew, but to be willing to let go of a few things and take on a new perspective of what I'm doing.

" ... my major issue was staying healthy, looking after my body and my run.

"Those are the areas that Dan excels in, getting jumpers to put together an approach and keeping them healthy, keeping them on the track."

Both Hooker and Lewis, the Australian (6.06m) and British (5.82m) record holders respectively, will contest the men’s pole vault at the Sydney and Perth legs of the Qantas Australian Athletics Tour.
 
“I’m committed to compete in Sydney and Perth this year, and also have plans to jump at a couple of smaller meets in Western Australia as part of my final preparations for the Qantas Australian Athletics Tour,” Hooker said, confirming his participation in the Australian Athletics Tour.
 
“Having the other Steve here to jump with me will be great, and I hope that between us we will be able to deliver something worth coming out to see.”

Hooker readily admits there are no guarantees he will get to the Rio Games - by which point he will be aged 34.

But the change in scene gives him the best chance of making it a reality.

And it fits in with his altered lifestyle away from the track.

Hooker married star Russian runner Katya Kostetskaya last year and the couple are expecting their first child in June.

Kostetskaya also trains in Arizona.

But he has yet to commit to the national titles in Sydney in April, which double as the trials for August's world championships in Moscow.

"Honestly, I'm not even thinking about worlds just yet," he said.

"I've made the mistake for probably the last three years of thinking about the majors at all costs.

"For the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and then I got injured for world champs in Daegu, that meant I came back too early and probably set myself back another six months.

"I'll always put everything aside for the Olympics but I probably needed another two months of preparation to get ready for that and was just a little bit underdone by the time I was there.

"I'm just trying to learn from all of the mistakes I have made."

Hooker did not register a height in the London Games final, a year after bombing out in the qualifying round at the world titles in Daegu - a far cry from his remarkably dominant period from 2008-10 when he was the proud holder of the Olympic, world outdoor and indoor, Commonwealth and Continental Cup crowns.

He acknowledges the time is probably right to pass on the captaincy of the Australian athletics team, a position he has held with distinction for the past few years.

The Qantas Australian Athletics Tour launches in Sydney on 9 March, before the Go for 2&5 Perth Track Classic on 16 March and the Qantas Melbourne World Challenge on 6 April.

Set to feature Australia’s best track and field charges including Olympicmedallists Sally Pearson (Qld) and Mitchell Watt (Qld), the three-meet series will also welcome a bounty of international superstars including Valerie Adams (NZL, shot put), Sunette Viljoen (RSA, javelin) and Asafa Powell (JAM, sprints).

John Salvado
AAP