10 APR 2011 Series

When at home, Hooker enjoys returning to his athletics roots – IAAF Online Diaries

Steve Hooker clears 5.96m to win Australia's first athletics Olympic gold medal of the 2008 Games (Getty Images)Steve Hooker clears 5.96m to win Australia's first athletics Olympic gold medal of the 2008 Games (Getty Images) © Copyright
Whenever he gets back to Melbourne, Steve Hooker likes to link up with his original coach, Mark Stewart, who also developed women’s vault pioneer, Emma George. In his latest IAAF Online Diary, the reigning Olympic champion looks back at the influence Stewart had on the early part of his career. 

"When I’m in Melbourne I always try to get to Mark’s sessions, talk with the guys he’s coaching and do as much with them as I can.

"He always asks me to look at new kids he’s developing, and how they’re jumping. It’s exciting to still have that connection with Mark and Box Hill Athletic Club. I think it’s great that Mark continues to do what he does, it’s one of the most important roles in pole vault in Australia.

"At the moment he’s got Brodie Cross, who will be representing Australia at the World Youth Championships and who broke a couple of my club and state records in Victoria. He jumps really well technically, has a really good model. It’s exciting to see him.

"When you talk about pole vault, I think who you start vaulting with, even more than talent, is an indicator of success. If you start off on the wrong foot it’s hard to make improvements.

"Mark was my first coach, I learned a lot from him.  He started me off with a really good technique.

"My first year, Mark really took some time progressing me through my technique and progressing back to longer run-ups. I don’t think I jumped off a full run-up in that first year, just so I could really focus on being good technically, having a good technical base and understanding from early on.

"He is a good teacher and can break things down and explain them in simple terms so that everyone can get their head around the concept.

"That’s very relevant in pole vault where there’s so much stuff going on at any one time. If you can break down what’s happening and concentrate on one or two key elements at a time then you get the job done a lot better. He’s got coaching people from scratch down really well.

"Some people search out pole vault for themselves, but Mark is good at scouting talent. He finds someone who might have an aptitude for the event and offers them the opportunity to make up their mind whether they want to be involved or not.

"For me, it was an event that looked a lot of fun, and a challenge as well. Those are two things that definitely appeal to me. Even now, every season and every training session I learn something new or experience a different feeling. It’s an event that continues to develop as you get older and get more experience.

"Mark coaches a lot of people to national level, but he is also happy to pass on people like me and Emma George to Alex Parnov.

"I think what he finds really rewarding is being involved in an athlete’s career at that period of time when they are improving a lot.

"He took me from jumping two metres in my first-ever training session to jumping 5.91. There was a lot of improvement in there, and there were a lot of challenges. I had a couple of years when it didn’t go so well. You go through a lot along that journey.

"Mark is one of the more mature coaches around. I really value having a relationship with him now, even though I’ve moved on to another coach. I’ll always be thankful for what he did for me, but also for his attitude when I thought it was time to move on to something new that might help develop my career a little bit more.

"Development coaches haven’t always been recognised in Australia, but increasingly they are getting recognition. I think Athletics Australia recognises that these development coaches at club level ultimately are the people that attract the elite athletes at the beginning of their career. We don’t have community level culture or school level culture of athletics in Australia so these people are the ones that are providing the athletes and getting them up to a level where they can be elite.

"Often they do it without pay, without reward, and with minimal recognition."

Steve