Hooker through to final
8 August 2012
ATHLETICS: After the sensational win by Sally Pearson and ninth to Benn Harradine – Australia’s best male discus result at the Olympics - the night before, it was then up to athletics captain and defending champion Steve Hooker to lead from the front on Day 12.
After failing to clear a height in qualifying at the 2011 World Championships and three non-clearances since leaving Australia in May it was a huge relief for global athletics fans to see him sail over the bar on his first attempt at 5.50 metres.
Hooker then passed at 5.60 metres and then with the bar at 5.65m there were only 14 athletes left in qualifying so the athletes decided together that all athletes would progress to Friday night’s final on Day 14.
The 30-year-old from Perth was happy and relaxed with how qualifying panned out, only needing one jump to progress to the defence of his title.
“It wasn’t the best jump I’ve ever done in my life but it was enough,” Hooker said.
“It is tricky conditions out there that were changing every second and you’ve just got to make do with it what you can. It’s going to be hotter on Friday (final) and the conditions are likely to be different again so hopefully we’ll get some good conditions and some big heights.”
Hooker has been struggling with form and confidence over the past year but you wouldn’t have known that today.
“I’m happy with how it’s going. I’m happy with how today went and I’ve given myself the best chance of jumping well on Friday and that’s all that I can do,” Hooker said.
Is anything still possible now he is in the final?
“I’m not in the position I was in four years ago but I’ve got good momentum and I know I’ve got more in me than my season best (5.72m) and that’s a good position to be in,” he said.
“I’m just going to go out there and every height I jump once I get past my first few jumps is a bonus and I’m going to enjoy myself and soak up the atmosphere and hopefully put on a good show for everyone.”
Men’s 5,000m heats
Australia had three runners in the men’s 5000m heats. David McNeill on Olympic debut and Collis Birmingham, who contested the event at Beijing 2008 were in the first heat and four-time Olympian Craig Mottram was in the next.
McNeill, 25, took the lead for a lap around the 2km mark. When the pace quickened he got dropped from the leading 14 with Birmingham hanging in there. The leaders went through 3km in 8:19 and the Australians dropped back. Birmingham pushed hard over the final kilometre but he looked a different athlete to the man who pushed Britain’s gold medal hope Mo Farah all the way at the recent London Grand Prix. McNeill finished the stronger over the last kilometre and passed Birmingham in the final 200 metres. McNeill was 13th in 13:45.88 and Birmingham 17th 13:50.39.
McNeill was also much slower than his season best and not happy with his performance.
“It wasn't the best run,” McNeill said. “I really wanted to fight for that top five but the pace picked up and unfortunately I didn’t have anything. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
“I fought right to the end, and passed a few people but I wasn't just going to stand there.”
Birmingham was unable to reproduce the great form he had at the London Grand Prix only a few weeks ago.
“I'm pretty disappointed,” Birmingham said. “I expected to make the final but I'll need to come back next year (world champs) and do better.”
“I never felt real comfortable (in the race) it was slow and I wanted it to be a quicker.”
Mottram pushed the pace in heat 2 and led through the first three-kilometres in 8:07 before being dropped when the pace picked up. He finished 16th in his heat in 13:40.24.
“I felt good til about 3km and then it gets tough, I got shuffled back, and your confidence goes and you start moving out of position,” Mottram said.
The 2005 World Championships medallist then lost touch and struggled to finish off the race like he has done so many times before.
At the Beijing Olympics he got outsprinted from the automatic qualifiers and it was a slow heat so he missed the final.
“I didn't want to go down like I did in Beijing, and think that if I had pushed it on early I could have made the final,” Mottram said.
“The heats are designed to get rid of the weaker runners and I was one of those.
“I've never led in the Olympics, that's the first time I have in four Olympics so that's a bonus. I'll never run a 5km on the track again at an Olympics, I want to try another distance, I want to run a marathon.”
Andrew Reid in London