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Pole vault champ Hooker calls it quits
April 11, 2014 - 10:13PM
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Steve Hooker reckons it's ironic his mind, not his body, ended his esteemed athletics career.
Arguably Australia's greatest-ever field athlete, Hooker will retire after one last outing for his Melbourne track club, Box Hill, in a 200-metre sprint on Saturday.
The Olympic and world pole vault champion admits it's not the way he expected his career to finish: in prime physical condition, but mentally burnt out.
"I honestly thought the body would be the one that would give way, and that would be the end. But it has almost been the opposite," Hooker said.
The 31-year-old's final pole vault competition was in the United States last June, the day after his son Max was born.
After that, his enjoyment of the sport waned to the point it wasn't fun any more.
"The only thing I was holding out for with my jumping was perhaps a happy ending, a great result to finish on," he said.
Now, he thinks it apt his career finishes in "humbling circumstances, rather than with some incredible performance".
"It's probably more symbolic of my journey," he said.
"It was ultimately the challenge of it all and the difficulty of the event that drove me to it and got me hooked.
"It's an event that it's really impossible to conquer permanently."
Hooker's halcyon days were in 2008-2010, a period when he held ever major title available: Olympics, world outdoor, world indoors, Commonwealth Games.
He still can't fathom how he won the 2009 world titles in Berlin with a thigh injury: his coach and doctor tried to talk him out of competing.
But after painkilling injections, Hooker competed. Restricted to one qualifying jump and another in the final, he somehow triumphed.
"It seems almost unrealistic that it happened ... that, to me, sounds like a made up story, not something that actually happened to me. That is pretty special," he said.
Each of his three Olympic Games remain treasured: his 2004 debut in Athens; gold in Beijing; and, in 2012, just making the team after injury and a case of yips when the bar seemed as far away as the moon.
"For me it was always a huge case of overcoming a whole lot of things - a bit of a fear, some mechanical deficiencies ... it was just tenacity that got me through," he said.
Hooker married Russian middle-distance runner Katya Kostetskaya and their son, Max, was born on June 21 last year.
"Having Max around and that idea of being responsible for a family, it just changed my perspective on everything," he said.
"And I had a realisation that perhaps what I was trying to do was a bit of a selfish pursuit and not really in the best interests of my family."
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