Hooker out of the ordinary as Olympics approach

TONBRIDGE, England Mon Jul 23, 2012 1:40pm EDT

Australia's Steve Hooker reacts after successfully clearing the bar during the men's pole vault finals at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi October 11, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Australia's Steve Hooker reacts after successfully clearing the bar during the men's pole vault finals at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi October 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

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TONBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - Struggling Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker struck a note of cautious optimism about his form on Monday after recording his best outdoor jump of the season in Poland over the weekend.

The former world champion, who became Australia's first track and field Olympic champion for four decades at the 2008 Beijing Games, has had a torrid couple of seasons leading up to the defense of his title in London.

He finally got his European season off the ground with a jump of 5.72m last Saturday which, while well short of his personal best of 6.06m, was his top effort since jumping the same height to qualify for the Games indoors in May.

"I think it shows where I'm at, where I feel I've been at for the last month or so," Hooker told reporters at the Australian athletics team training camp in Kent.

"I think ... it was the best jump I've done in two years.

"I felt good in Poland, I felt like I was in the competition," he added. "I'm confident if I jump like that I'll feel confident about qualifying and once you're in the final it's anyone's game."

In the miserable two years since he won the world title in 2009, Hooker was first struck by injury and then by a crisis of confidence that some have likened to the "yips" that golfers sometimes experience with their putting.

"Yips is the term that everyone else has used but I don't think I ever have, it's a confidence thing and it's a rhythm thing and a timing thing. There's also physical factors at play," Hooker explained.

"It's a complicated sport and the only way I can put it is if you don't feel right running down the runway, then you don't want to jump. It's the same for everybody."

Hooker was not surprised by his jump in Poland and said it probably would have come sooner had the weather for many of the meets in Europe this year not been so poor.

"They were ordinary competitions but no one jumped well, even people who had been putting up good marks all season," he said.

"Things have been progressing well in training, I'm physically in good shape and I think my jump's coming along well.

"It would have been to get some better weather," he added. "It would have been nice to have had a proper European summer and get some proper jumps in at a couple of the competitions.

"Maybe I would have jumped a bit higher by now if that was the case but the positive is I've been out in some pretty ordinary conditions.

"There's every chance we won't have a great day for either the qualifying or the final."

Hooker is the captain of the Australian athletics squad at the London Games and his return to some sort of form was also welcomed by his team mates.

"It's just absolutely fantastic," said 100 meters hurdles world champion Sally Pearson.

"Steve's obviously always been our captain and to be able to see him coming and rising up again is a relief, more so for him than anything.

"He's just such a fun guy to have around, especially when he's jumping well and I'd never discount him at any major championship, he's just a true champion."

Despite his problems over the last two years, Hooker refused to rule out successfully defending his title in a competition that begins with qualifying at the Olympic Stadium on August 8.

"I don't think that's an impossibility but I'm not thinking about defending my title as much as I'm thinking about going out to do good jumps," he said.

"I'm really driven by the process now rather than the outcomes. I'm just trying to get training right and whatever result comes, comes."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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