Simon Turnbull: Vaulter Hooker enjoys London high life as a Muswell Hillbilly

Olympic Diary

It is 12 years since Cathy Freeman jetted halfway around the globe to prepare for a home Olympics. The reigning 400 metres world champion at the time, she flew 11,000 miles, from Melbourne to London, to train for the 2000 Sydney Olympics with the British quarter-miler Donna Fraser at the Thames Valley Athletics Centre in Eton.

It was, Freeman confessed to The Independent on Sunday in July that year, to escape "the pressure cooker of home". "I'm left alone here," she said. "I can focus on my training. I feel really comfortable here. I like the fact that I'm not that well known in London."

It proved to be a shrewd move. With the pressure of a nation's expectations on her shoulders in front of a 110,000 crowd in Stadium Australia, the Aboriginal woman duly delivered a home gold – the first for Australia in Olympic track and field since 1988.

It was rather different when Steve Hooker struck pole vault gold in Beijing in 2008. His victory in the "Bird's Nest Stadium" – with last-gasp clearances at 5.65 metres, 5.80m, 5.85m, 5.90m and 5.96m – took Australia by surprise. He became a national celebrity overnight. The Hollywood comic Will Ferrell gave an impersonation of him on the Australian show Rove, complete with curly ginger mop and headband.

Three years on, like Freeman before him, Hooker has come to London to train for an Olympic Games. The 29-year-old from Perth has set up base in the northern suburbs of the English capital to prepare for the defence of his Olympic crown in the East End a year from now.

"I think it's a big advantage to be in London in the lead-up to the Olympics," Hooker told The Independent yesterday, speaking from Monte Carlo, where he opens his 2011 season in the IAAF Diamond League in the Stade Louis II tonight. "I feel comfortable being in London as part of that building process towards the Games next year.

"I've been doing a lot of training over the past few years with the British pole vaulter Steve Lewis. He's been warm-weather training with me in Australia and he's returned the favour by having me train with him in London.

"It's a situation that works really well and I'm happy with it. It's worked even better, given that the Olympic Games are going to be in London."

So where exactly is home from home for the reigning world, Olympic and Commonwealth pole vault champion? "I live with Steve in Muswell Hill," he said. Ah, the home of The Kinks... "Really?" Hooker said. "I didn't know that. Iconic band.

"Well, we live a real rock and roll lifestyle in Muswell Hill, anyway. I'm sure it's very similar to what The Kinks were up to back in their day on the Hill."

Back in the summer of 2000, Freeman set up home south of the river at Kingston upon Thames. A fortnight ago, at the age of 38, she became a mother for the first time, giving birth to a daughter, Ruby Anne Susie Murch.

"Cathy was under a lot of pressure in Australia in 2000," Hooker said, "and I'm seeing that with a lot of the British athletes at the moment, I think. Every day at training there's 20 cameras turning up to film athletes doing various things.

"That's something that the British athletes are going to have to deal with and it could be a real challenge for them. It's something that Cathy eventually found a way to deal with quite well. She put the result that she wanted and she got the training in that she needed to get that result.

"I think with that pressure comes as well a lot of opportunities for British athletes. They've got a great set-up there with coaching and funding and corporate buy-in to what they're doing. The overriding feeling is that it's a positive time leading into the Olympics."

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past