NEW YORK - Event organizers on Thursday hosted a press conference in advance of the 102nd Millrose Games, which will be run Friday evening at Madison Square Garden. On hand for Thursday's press conference were Olympic men's pole vault gold medalist Steven Hooker of Australia; 2007 World Outdoor and 2006 World Indoor men's shot put champion Reese Hoffa; and Olympic women's pole vault silver medalist and outdoor American record holder Jenn Stuczynski.
Below are excerpts from Thursday's press conference.
It's fantastic to be here. I have come a long way. This is about as far as I travel around the world. I come from Perth, so there's about 12 hours' difference on the time difference. For me, this is my first competition since Beijing, so it's going to be interesting to see how that feels, to get out there. I always enjoy competing against Derek (Miles, the defending Millrose Games champion), who came fourth at the Olympics. He finished off the season really strong last year and he's probably one of the most in-form guys in the world at the moment. It should be a really good competition. I'm just hoping to get out there and have a really good time. It's always a fun meet. I've enjoyed it. I did it two years ago and am looking forward to get back into competing.
There's less variables indoors for us. The event itself stays pretty much the same. For us, it's very, very similar to jumping outside, it's just less variables. You don't have to worry about the weather or the wind, which are two main concerns for us. It takes a bit of the randomness out of it. Indoors it's a pretty level playing field, and more often than not you see the best guys at the top. The indoor world record is higher than the outdoor world record.
I've generally underperformed at World Championships, so going into this year, my focus is to get a good result there (at the 2009 World Outdoor Championships) for the first time. I'd also like to get a personal best and get as close to the world record as I can. That's a constant, those two goals.
On how life is different since winning the Olympic gold: It's been a bit different. I can't really walk down the street at home without people coming up. A lot of people come up and saying congratulations. The event was on on a Friday night, and it ran until after midnight in Australia when they were watching it live. A lot of people tell me their stories about where they were when my competition was on, or how it affected them, or how much beer they went out and drank after I won. It had quite an effect at home. It's been 40 years since an Australian won the men's pole vault gold medal, so it was a pretty big deal back home. It has changed my life, but only in the superficial sense. Everything that is real has remained constant. You've got your family and friends, and that stays the same. I am training just as hard as I was before the Olympic Games. I still love pole vault just as much. ... I got a lot of drinks poured for me when I got home. It was hard to stay sober (laughs).
First off, thank you for having me here. I always enjoy coming to the Millrose Games and competing. Of course it makes it a lot easier since I have a lot of my family and the New York Athletic Club cheering me on. They have their own little booth and they have a great party afterwards. In terms of the competition, it should be very good. Adam (Nelson) is probably hungry right now to continue to push on the Millrose Games record, including myself and Christian Cantwell. I just got back from Germany last week getting the year kicked off. I threw around 67 feet, so I feel pretty good. It should be exciting. As long as we get the fans on our side, it should be a lot of fun.
On his Olympic performance: I think, if anything, it just goes to show you that it doesn't matter if you are the favorite. It's all about execution. I went in there expecting a big result. I just didn't execute. I blame myself. I thought I did everything right. I came over 2 ½ weeks early, I was training well, everything was on point. After qualifying, I thought that was going to be the major hurdle of the Olympics - getting through qualifying. I got through that with one throw and I was done. I think Adam and Christian did about the same. Everything was lined up, and then we got out there to the final and it was kind of eerie. The ball wouldn't go, no matter what I did.
Being a thrower, I kind of get on a roll when I'm throwing. In 2007 in Osaka, my first throw was 71 feet. I've been in other competitions where I've started a little slow, where I started at maybe 67 (feet), but I think I started out the Olympics at 63 or 64 feet. Honestly, it had been so long since I had thrown that short in any competition that I think I panicked. It can only go up.
Anytime I get to throw against the best throwers - and lucky for me I get to throw against the best all the time, Adam Nelson, Christian Cantwell, even Dan Taylor - I always love throwing against the best because it brings the best out of myself.
I have a lot to prove (in 2009). When you go into the Olympics and everyone expects you to do great things, and you don't do that, you put a lot of pressure on yourself. But for this year, in some ways, in Europe and maybe the U.S., maybe the way people look at U.S. shot putting may have gone down a little bit. I guess we have to remind the world that we are the U.S., there's only been two Olympics in the history of the sport when we have not gotten a medal.
For years, at least at World Championships, we were winning. When you look at the World Championships, there's probably been only a handful of times when an American hasn't won the World Championships. So we just have to go out this year to show the world that yes, the U.S. is the number 1 shot put country in the world, and we just want to dominate. That's what we do.
I don't have a good track record. It's one of those things we call the Millrose Curse. Every time I try to jump, something just happens and it's a second (place), a fourth, a second. So this time the goal is just to try to win the meet. We don't have any specific heights in mind. It's my first meet of the season, and I usually have about six meets in by now. We'll see how it goes.
After the Olympics, I took a lot of time off and I worked on a lot of technical things. Just to avoid burnout, we eased into the indoor season. We're going to try to make it a little more of a technical season and try to enjoy things, try to enjoy the meets and the competitions.
When you start to compete, you just try to make the bar. Once the season ended, I tried to work on things in my swing, things in my takeoff, things in my run. There are going to be times in competition where I'm going to have to think of it (the technical aspects). It's getting to the point where I have to do it on game day, not just in practice. We're going to use the indoor season to make those adjustments.
On the Olympic experience: The Olympic experience is ... so many people can tell you about the Trials and all that. Until you go through it, you don't really understand. People said I am going to be stressed out, that you need to be able to emotionally talk to someone, and it's true. You have to go through the Trials and you have to qualify, first, in the U.S., and that's stressful. As you know, I was on my third attempt at the opening height (at the Olympic Trials). I almost had a chance of not going. Then you go to the Olympics and the whole experience is mind-blowing. Until you've been in it, you really don't understand it. Afterwards, though, you're just glad it's over. You're glad it worked out and you go back home, and everything's quiet again.
On competitive rivalries: When you're competing with anyone, you're competing. It's competition. It's athletics. I think the shot putters are the best at it. They're in there, they're competing, and they're competing hard. Then at the end of it, they're all having something to eat together. I think that is a good way to compete, to compete hard on the field and then off field, do your own thing.
Tickets for the 2009 Millrose Games are now available at Ticketmaster (call 212-307-7171, visit www.Ticketmaster.com or at Ticketmaster outlets); at the Madison Square Garden box office or on-line at www.Millrose-Games.com. USATF welcomes you to pay with your Visa.
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