STEVE Hooker has won Australia’s first field gold medal in 60 years with an extraordinary display of nerves and skill in the final of the men’s pole vault in Beijing.
Four times during the Games, the 26-year-old had stared at elimination and each time he found a way to win Australia its first men’s pole vault medal.
After almost being eliminated in Thursday night’s qualifying, Hooker faced the same fate three times before clearing 5.90m to win the gold medal from Russia’s world indoor champion Evgeny Lukyanenko.
But not content with that, Hooker then broke the Olympic record by 1cm when he cleared 5.96m at his third attempt. American Tim Mack set the record of 5.95m in Athens four years ago.
He decided against having a shot at improving his personal best of 6.00m and instead did a victory lap with an Australian flag wrapped around him.
Hooker wrote his name into the history books when he jumped 5.85m at his third and final attempt to remain in the gold medal fight with Lukyanenko, who also cleared the height at his last attempt.
But it was at the next height where the Russian faltered and the Melbourne-born vaulter produced the leap of his lifetime to emulate Cathy Freeman’s gold-medal performance in 2000.
In a stunning show of raw emotion, Hooker’s coach Alex Parnov sprinted onto the track to embrace his charge.
Speaking shortly afterwards Hooker said that the accomplishment was “without question the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life, physically and mentally”.
“The Olympic record is really special to me. Tim Mack is a hero of mine … I was really hoping to replicate what he did, and I can’t believe that it’s come true.