Athletics: Olympic champion Hooker vaults to London

SYDNEY - Australia's reigning Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker is set for the London Games after clearing the qualifying height in Perth.

Hooker, 29, making his first competitive outing in three months, cleared 5.72 metres on his second attempt to secure his berth at a third Olympics.

A persistent knee injury and an accompanying lack of confidence had threatened to derail his Olympic campaign earlier this year.

But Hooker easily cleared the required qualifying height in a specially sanctioned meet held in his own purpose-built indoor training facility before an invited-only crowd of around 150 supporters.

Hooker high-fived the crowd and hugged his coach Alex Parnov after successfully completing the 5.72m jump to huge relief after a turbulent few months.

"I'm very relieved but at the same time so damn excited," Hooker told the Athletics Australia website.

"For a while there I thought I was a shoo-in to make London and losing that certainty and having to fight like I have to get back was a challenge I didn't see coming. It is something that I am just stoked to have gotten over."

Hooker said qualification was the culmination of months of hard training to get back to his top form.

"It has been months and months of jumps, jumps and more jumps - thousands of jumps, seriously - to be back at this level," he said.

"We stripped it right back to basics, made a real effort to get the things that were letting me down right and from there begun the process of building my heights up."

Hooker will now return to international competition, starting with the second round of the Diamond League in Shanghai next weekend.

"This (qualification) is great, but it is only one thing on the road to London," he said.

"I now need to get into the rhythm of competing again, and doing that in conditions where not all the variables are controlled.

"That's why I'm looking forward to Shanghai and then Europe as it will be where I can continue to develop before the Games in situations that are out of my power and against athletes that will challenge me the whole way to London."

Hooker won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, the 2009 world title, the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medals and the 2010 world indoor championships.

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