27 FEB 2009 Preview Sydney, Australia

Hooker takes centre stage in Sydney as Powell tackles one-lap race - Sydney PREVIEW

Another 6m clearance for Steve Hooker, this time in Paris (Jiro Mochizuki (Agence shot))Another 6m clearance for Steve Hooker, this time in Paris (Jiro Mochizuki (Agence shot)) © Copyright

Ten slim centimetres separate Australia's Olympic Pole Vault gold medallist Steve Hooker from athletics immortality.

That is the distance between Hooker's national record of 6.06m and a leap of 6.16m which would better the 35th and greatest World record of 6.15m set by Ukrainian legend Sergey Bubka in Donetsk in 1993.

Hooker is hoping to take a crack at Bubka's 16-year-old record tomorrow when the pole vault competition starts at 7pm during the Sydney Track Classic at Olympic Park, Homebush.

The Sydney Track Classic is one of a select group of Area meetings at which points can be acquired by athletes to qualify for the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final, to be held on 12-13 September in Thessaloniki, Greece.


Bubka's record ready to go?

“Bubka hasn't offered me any advice on how to break his record,” said Hooker, who is now history's second highest vaulter.

“But I think he's ready for it to go. He wants to see the sport of athletics do well and he sees record progression as part of that.”

Bubka was a force of nature, a phenomenon in sports who won the Pole Vault at the first six World Championships from 1983 to 1997, as well as one Olympic gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Although no man has come closer than Hooker to beating Bubka's best, it bears mentioning that the former Soviet Union superstar actually had eight meets and 15 jumps higher than Hooker's best during his stellar career.

In an era in which the world marvelled at Carl Lewis – “a new Jesse Owens” - Bubka outlasted the American and fashioned the pole vault in his own style, elevating the event to the top of sport's “must see” list. So the man who removes Bubka's name from the record book will himself achieve a kind of immortality.

Weather is forecast to be warm in Sydney and certainly the competition will be hot with eight Olympic gold medallists in action in the best meet in the state of New South Wales since the 2000 Olympics.

Olympic champions Walker, Vili and Brown-Trafton top women's fields

The parade of gold medallists includes three members of Jamaica's World record breaking men's 4x100m relay - Michael Frater, Nesta Carter and Asafa Powell - plus fellow Jamaican, the 400m hurdles Olympic record breaker Melaine Walker, surprise discus winner Stefanie Brown-Trafton (USA), New Zealand's peerless shot put queen Valerie Vili, America's 2004 Athens pole vault winner Tim Mack and the new Olympic record holder Hooker.

The ginger-haired Victorian's main opponent is set to be Yevgeniy Lukyanenko, the good-natured Russian who took the silver medal in Beijing. He won last year's World Indoor Championships, set a personal best of 6.01m in July and predicted he is again ready to scale 6m.

There have only ever been 14 men who have cleared 6m. Only eight of these are still active and four - Hooker, Mack, Lukyanenko and Paul Burgess of Australia - are in action in Sydney. This is a very special event, even without the consideration that Hooker is the first Australian male athlete to win Olympic gold since Ralph Doubell won the 800m at the 1968 Games in Mexico.

Speaking of the 10cm separating him from the World record, Hooker yesterday told The Daily Telegraph: “It doesn't look like much but every centimetre once you get up to that height is incrementally harder to achieve.”

“It's a case of not thinking about the numbers and just thinking about process,” he added.

Asafa Powell to tackle longer distance

Other highlights include:

* 4x100m men’s relay:  Jamaica (three-quarters of the Olympic champion and World record holding team including Asafa Powell) versus Australia

* men's 400m hurdles: 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson (USA) versus Australia’s newest Berlin World Championships qualifier Tristan Thomas and Commonwealth champion LJ Van Zyl of South Africa.

* women's 100m hurdles: Australia's surprise Beijing Olympic silver medallist Sally McLellan versus two-time World championships US representative Jenny Adams

* men's 400m: Australia's Olympic semi-finalist Joel Milburn, Commonwealth champion John Steffensen, Athens Olympic relay silver medallist Clinton Hill and fellow Olympian Sean Wroe take on three Jamaicans including Asafa Powell and US star Xavier “X-Man” Carter.

* women's 100m sprint: Sally McLellan versus Melissa Breen, 18, who clocked 11.33sec before Christmas to top the Australian 100m rankings for 2008 just fresh out of high school in Canberra and Jamaica's Olympic 400m silver medallist Sherika Williams (Jamaica).

*  women’s discus throw: Sydney’s own Dani Samuels, now 20, the youngest women’s discus finalist at the Beijing Olympics is coming off a knee injury but hoping to give a fright to US Olympic champion Stefanie Brown-Trafton.

* women’s 400m hurdles: Jamaica’s Olympic champion and Record holder Melaine Walker is coming out of a general training phase and may not have things all her own way against Canberra’s highly promising Lauren Boden who should carry the flag in this event for Australia in the absence of World title holder Jana Rawlinson who is coming back slowly after toe surgery and related injuries forced her to abandon her Beijing Olympic campaign.

* men’s 110m hurdles: US indoors and outdoors champion David Oliver, the Beijing bronze medallist, is hoping to open his outdoor campaign for 2009 with a time of 13.3 or faster which would hopefully pull Australian title holder Justin Merlino of Sydney to his own best time of the new year.
 
* men’s 1500m: Bahrain’s former Kenyan Yusuf Kamel goes with Kenyans Bernard Kiplagat and Gideon Gathamba against Australian Olympians Jeff Riseley, Collis Birmingham and outstanding junior prospect Ryan Gregson and former national champions Lachlan Chisholm and Nick Bromley, Ireland’s David Campbell and Britain’s Mike Skinner.

Mike Hurst (Sydney Daily Telegraph) for the IAAF