06 SEP 2010 General News 6 September 2010 – Split, Croatia

Hooker - back to basics, back to winning ways

Steven Hooker clears 5.95m to win the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup in Split (Getty Images)Steven Hooker clears 5.95m to win the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup in Split (Getty Images) © Copyright
Split, CroatiaAnyone looking forward to the men’s Pole Vault competition at the beginning of the season would have salivated at the announcement of a ‘Steven Hooker vs Renaud Lavillenie’ line-up.

On the one hand, the Olympic, World Indoor and World Outdoor champion and on the other the World bronze medallist and only other man to scale the magical 6 metre barrier in the last two years.

But then as the year unfolded, the showdown proved less and less intriguing not because one had lost interest in the Pole Vault but simply because the matchup never came even close to materialising.

After the tremendous disappointment of not qualifying for the World Indoor Championships final back in March, Lavillenie regrouped and returned to score four consecutive Samsung Diamond League wins, secure the European title in Barcelona and set the year’s highest mark at 5.94 when taking the National title in Valence.

It was opposite fortunes for Hooker who returning from a victorious World Indoors as one of 14 Diamond League Ambassador had to face disappointment in all of his seven showings. Alongside three meetings where he no-heighted, Hooker’s best outdoors, outside a 5.91m effort at home in February, remained a series of 5.80m clearances, not the standard the milk man has been used to these past couple of years.

As it turned out, one would have to wait until the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup, the last showdown between the two Pole Vault aces, to finally be treated to the best.

Hooker struggled with an opening failure at 5.40m, a height he wouldn’t normally even consider but it being a team competition and point-scoring event, a low mark is always a secure tactic. Yet for a seasoned competitor like the Australian champion, having to do with a failure at this height certainly is far from being the most confidence-boosting start.

Again, Hooker failed at 5.70m but again he corrected and cleared the second time of asking.

Meanwhile Lavillenie was having the perfect competition with first time clearances all the way up to and including 5.90m.

Game was on when Hooker produced his best in all of six months and scaled 5.90m and although local poster girl Blanka Vlasic was drawing all of the 27,500 spectators’ attention to the other side of the track, fans started showing more and more interest in the Pole Vault. Could they go higher?

Hooker and Lavillenie found themselves failing first and second attempts at 5.95m and it was the Asia/Pacific Team captain on first for his final chance. Reminiscent of his Beijing and Berlin form, Hooker mastered that height to perfection putting pressure on the Frenchman. It wasn’t going to be Lavillenie’s day and for the first time in seven head to heads this summer, Hooker had the upper hand.

“I am most surprised I didn’t jump at this level the rest of the year,” said a delighted Hooker. “I knew I had this height in me.

“Today it was back to basics, I just thought about a few basic things. I have been competing a lot and then training a lot and it felt like competition was always in the way. Now I have been thinking about 1 or 2 things at the time.

“I am not back to my best just yet but we can say I am jumping well; I still have some ordinary jumps, I had to work my way to this victory, I was actually never in control.

“The World Indoor title was my main target but the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games are also equally important. I had several goals so spread out and that’s why this has been a tough year.

“I am happy to have won here, I am the Asia/Pacific Team Captain and as a captain I have to set a good example for the rest of the team. I won this competition under a different name four years ago and I enjoy it.

“I’m glad I had my best result; I am still tired though but I am working towards something,” he said referring to those who compare his strongest motivation to Lavillenie’s. “My season has been longer and harder but I still have something to look forward to and that is keeping me hungry.

“For some reason my form went somewhere during the Diamond League season; it still is not there as it should be but it feels good to have a good competition!”

Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF