22 AUG 2009 Report

Event Report - Men's Pole Vault - Final

Steven Hooker of Australia celebrates a clearance at 5.90m to win the men's Pole Vault final (Getty Images)Steven Hooker of Australia celebrates a clearance at 5.90m to win the men's Pole Vault final (Getty Images) © Copyright

There comes a time in most athletes' careers when an injury forces them to cut their losses and forego competing in a championship. There are other times, however, when sheer guts and bloody-mindedness shines through.

Against conventional wisdom, Olympic champion Steve Hooker did precisely the latter and overcame a torn adductor and a neural problem in his upper quad to land the gold medal in a dramatic Pole Vault final.

Hooker stuck with the plan he adopted in qualifying by opting to enter at whatever height would be needed to finish in the top three. Given the severity of his injury, the Australian likely would have settled for any colour medal. But Hooker was playing a risky game - especially when six-metre-man Renaud Lavillenie was in the field.

All three Frenchman - Lavillenie, Romain Mesnil and Damiel Dossevi - were the only athletes to clear 5.55m and 5.65m at the first time of asking as they shared an early lead.

Meanwhile Derek Miles of the USA, fourth at the Olympics last year, was the first man to exit the competition, failing three times at the opening height of 5.50m.

As the bar moved up to 5.65m, five more of the 15 finalists were wiped out as Kevin Rans of Belgium, Malte Mohr of Germany, Alhaji Jeng of Sweden, Viktor Chistiakov of Russia and Daichi Sawano of Japan were made to pack away their poles. Nine men were left.

The flying Frenchman surrendered their shared lead at the next height as Ukraine's Maksim Mazuryk cleared 5.75m on his first attempt, as did Alexander Gripich, a PB for the Russian.

Lavillenie, Mesnil and Dossevi all failed on their first tries at this height, but it was Dossevi - the least favoured of the team - who cleared 5.75m on his second attempt to set a PB. Lavillenie pulled out a clutch third-time clearance, while Germany's Alexander Straub and Britain's Steve Lewis exited at this height. Mesnil skipped to the next height. Hooker did likewise.

Lavillenie regained his lead as he flew over 5.80m, but it was short-lived as Mesnil - who had a better count-back record - also cleared it and took pole position.

Former World champion Giuseppe Gibilisco failed on his first go at this height, and with two previous failures at 5.75m it was the end of the road for the Italian. Mazuryk had one miss and then skipped to 5.85m, while Dossevi and Gripich took three unsuccessful jumps and waved goodbye to the competition.

The field was down to four as the bar moved up to 5.85m. A first-time clearance at this height would put Hooker among the medals. He watched Mazuryk fail and then took his place on the runway.

With the pain from his injuries being masked by a local anaesthetic, Hooker sped down the runway, planted his pole, and got over 5.85m - but then nudged the bar on the way down. He lay on the bed, a devastated and battered figure. But he was then sent a lifeline in the form of a failure by Lavillenie.

It was then the 'other' Frenchman - Mesnil - who succeeded at this height, maintaining his lead in the competition. Mazuryk took one more try, but it was not to be, signalling the end of the competition for the Ukrainian. He was in the bronze medal position, but it would take just one good jump from Hooker to nudge Mazurk out of the medals.

Hooker and Lavillenie decided to move the bar up to 5.90m. What was Hooker thinking? Surely this would all end in tears?

And indeed it did - but they were tears of joy. In what can only be described as a Hollywood ending, Hooker nailed a perfect 5.90m vault. Against all the odds, Hooker was in the gold medal position.

Suddenly the pressure was on Lavillenie and Mesnil, but they could not respond at either 5.90m or 5.95m. Hooker, having taken just two jumps in the final, held on to his lead.

His 5.85m was the highest ever opening height in global championship history, and his 5.90m jump is the highest ever first-time clearance height. Ordinarily, of course, vaulters would not play such a risky strategy. But then again, Hooker is no ordinary athlete, as he proved tonight.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF