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Australia, the magazine : Australia, the magazine
29 STEVEN HOOKER, 28 OCCUPATION: POLE VAULTER Steve Hooker was born into the long tradition of Australian athletics, but that didn't mean it wasn't a tough road for the 28-year-old pole vaulter and Beijing Olympics gold medalist. Hooker's mother Erica represented Australia in the long jump at the 1972 Munich Olympics and won a Commonwealth Games silver medal, while father Bill represented Australia in middle distance running at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. "It was cool having an Olympian for a mum," says Hooker. "It was something I was always proud of, that my parents had these achievements. It also made it seem like it was always possible." It was this self-belief that sustained Hooker on his long journey to Beijing. Originally from Melbourne, he considered focusing on Australian Rules football before dedicating himself to the pole vault, a decision which saw him move across the country -- on a tiny stipend -- to train with his Russian coach. At Beijing, his quest for gold seemed over when his third attempt to clear 5.85 metres failed. But ten minutes later, with other competitors out of the event, the equation was simple: if he could vault 5.9 metres then the gold medal was his. That he succeeded wrote Hooker into the record books. He became Australia's first male track and field gold medalist in 40 years and -- with his distinctive long hair -- a national icon. "I had put so much hard work into gold, it was a dream come true," says Hooker. "I think back to the great Australian athletes and how they inspired me, and that's the main thing to me now, to provide inspiration to young Australians." Hooker's goal now is to break the world record vault of 6.15 metres set by Sergey Bubka, the Ukranian legend. He has cleared 6.06 metres -- at an event in Boston recently - but while the world record still eludes him, he is still striving for it in his very Australian way. "People always admire Australia for its competitiveness, and in a way I embody that because for a long time I was an underdog," says Hooker. "I think that sums up Australians on the sporting field, and generally in life too."28 Jody D'Arcy/ Newspix