Hooker’s demons don’t lie among his opponents

STEVE HOOKER’S reunion with his pole vault buddies may well provide the springboard for the reigning world champion to give a yelp in today’s finals. It’s what friends are for.

Not often in Olympic sports do competitors cite their opponents as major contributors to their campaigns. More often than not, it’s steely looks and mind games that at times border on the bizarre.

The pole vaulting fraternity breaks these rules. During Wednesday’s qualifications, Hooker regularly chatted and laughed with the men he was competing against. He high-fived Raphael Holzdeppe when the German cleared 5.65 metres in the pit adjacent to his and clapped when his friend Brad Walker of the United States soared above 5.60m.

He led deputations to officials to debate why the numbers of vaulters in the finals should be boosted from 12 to 14 when a lot of leapers were bunched on 5.50m, the height Hooker cleared in his one and only jump.

”When they have got the rule of 12 people going through and there’s a large group of guys who have the same result at the back of that pool, then a lot of people can go through,” Hooker said. ”It just worked out that way that a lot of people in our pit jumped 50 with no misses. We decided if we group together we all can go through.”

Hooker said all this goodwill – and London’s infamous weather – can give him the ultimate lift as he defends the title won so heroically in Beijing.

Hooker has dealt with his demons over the past year, working with coach Alex Parnov to overcome the yips that threatened his career. His form leading into the Games wasn’t flash as he no-heighted in three events and managed only relatively modest clearances in others.

In years gone by, heights such as 5.20m and 5.42m were a walk in the park to Hooker but he regarded them as building blocks for London. Now he has mates to help him.

”I am at home out there. We had a fantastic time,” Hooker said of the qualification. ”I was on a fantastic pool. I don’t normally get on the party pool but today I was. Most of my mates were on that pool. It creates a good environment for good results. And I think it tells by the large number of people getting through.”

Hooker, who was upbeat through his dark days, is realistic about his chances today against men such as Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, Germans Bjorn Otto and Malte Mohr, and Walker, who have all cleared more than 5.90m this season compared with his best of 5.72m.

”I know I have more in me than my season’s best,” Hooker said. ”But I’ll be enjoying the atmosphere out there, soaking it up and enjoying being out there … and putting on a good show for everyone.”

With enemies like these who needs friends.

Meanwhile, Allyson Felix – the two-time 200m world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist in the same event – has finally claimed the gold that eluded her in Beijing and Athens.

The American sprinter beat a red-hot field to win ahead of Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and US teammate Carmelita Jeter in a time of 21.88 seconds. ”I remember coming over here [to journalists] in tears in Beijing and gosh [it’s] just the complete opposite tonight and for it all to come together is just extremely special,” the 26-year-old said. ”It felt good, I just said, ‘Thank you Lord’, relief, joy, a flood of emotions, I don’t think it’s all set in yet.”

Felix said her main aim was to be ”aggressive” in the final. ”It’s the Olympics, anything can happen, [Felix’s coach Bobby Kersee] told me, ‘Just go out and get it’. I knew if I ran my race it would all come together. I think [Beijing] was all for a reason, I think it kept me motivated and it made this moment just very special. It was a big weight [off her shoulders], there’s definitely always pressure, when you’re the favourite. It’s there, you just want to execute it.”

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