Athletic family hits the heights with love of Richmond

Updated March 15 2022 - 3:10pm, first published 12:00am
Top sports ... Erica and Bill Hooker with gold-medallist son Steve in their Richmond backyard
Top sports ... Erica and Bill Hooker with gold-medallist son Steve in their Richmond backyard

You've got the best of both worlds here really - the urban environment but also the Yarra and parklands and sportsgrounds close by

Former Australian track and field champions Erica and Bill Hooker loved the individualism of athletics and collected a bag of medals between them in Australia and around the world.

These include a silver from the 1978 Commonwealth Games in which Erica won in the long jump. Bill, who trained with legendary coach Franz Stampfl, was until recently one of the top 10 all-time fastest Australians over 800m and their son, Steve, won gold at the Beijing Olympics in the pole vault.

These days the couple, who moved to Richmond 15 years ago, keep fit with pilates, walking around the suburb and chasing their three young grandchildren, the sons of Steve and his wife, former Russian Olympian Katya Kostetskaya.


Erica- In 2003, we were on a weekly walking challenge that brought us through Richmond. One day, as we went down Rowena Parade I looked around and said, "I could live here!" and Billy said, "So could I". It took us four years to actually buy a place though. We kept getting out-bid at auctions.

You've got the best of both worlds here really - the urban environment but also the Yarra and parklands and sportsgrounds close by.

Bill- The kids grew up in North Balwyn, which was great. We've got four kids - Andrew, 43, Steve, 40, Tom, 38, and Katie, 35. Generally, though, when you wanted to go anywhere, you got in the car. After we moved here we got used to walking or catching the train. It's a different way of living, and we love that you actually know a lot of locals in the neighbourhood. You wander down the street and see them and stop and have a chat instead of just waving from your car. It's a village.

Erica- We had Tom and Katie, who were 20 and 22, with us when we first moved in, so we've had a 21st here and lots of parties. When Steve came back to Australia from America with [his wife] Katya after their first son, Max, was born, they rented a place two doors up and lived there for a year, which was great for all of us.


Erica- I started in a club in Brisbane when I was 12, and because I'm not so much a team person but more of an individual, it was right up my alley. I loved the training, the discipline and growing up with like-minded people. I managed to get into the Australian team for the 1972 Olympics, then went to two Commonwealth Games - 1974 in Christchurch and 1978 in Edmonton, Canada. I did the pentathlon and long jump in Christchurch with no results to speak of, then won the silver medal in Edmonton in the long jump [as Erica Nixon].

Bill only recently dropped out of the top 10 all-time Australian 800m record holders. He attained his personal best in London in 1973 at the British Championships. He trained with Franz Stampfl, who coached Roger Bannister to the sub-four-minute mile, and also with Ralph Doubell, who won the gold medal in Mexico for the 800m. Bill only went to the one Commonwealth Games, in 1974.

Bill- I started with Franz in 1966. He was a great coach and had a really good squad. Some of his theories were a bit offbeat but that was how things were in those days. Athletics is an individual sport, so it attracts people who are a bit egotistical. You've got to be a bit of an egotist to think you can be best in the world at something.

Erica- Bill and I both worked full time while we were competing athletes. We got to know each other in 1973 when we were on the same team. We got a bit more serious in 1974 and married in 1975. After we had children, we moved into the real world and sort of lost touch with track and field.

Bill- Every Commonwealth games when the kids were at primary school Erica's silver medal came out of the bag in the cupboard for show-and-tell. It was sort of all chipped around the edges from being dropped in playgrounds.

Vaulting ahead ... Steve Hooker after being presented with his 2008 Beijing Gold medal
Vaulting ahead ... Steve Hooker after being presented with his 2008 Beijing Gold medal


Erica- We didn't encourage Steven to get into athletics but he was very independent and self-motivated. He knew where he was going, what he was doing and at a certain point in his life there was no stopping him. He got us back into the world of track and field.

Steve- I always liked sport as a kid and was just a naturally competitive kind of person I guess. I did know mum and dad were very good athletes, and a lot of their friends were too, and you sort of got to know their stories growing up.


Bill - At Box Hill when Steve was a teenager they had a pole vault crew with Emma George in it, who had just broken the women's world record. One day Steve said he was going to try out. He came home after that and said he'd been asked to join the squad. Mark Stewart coached him through to Commonwealth Games Gold in 2006, then Steve switched to Alex Parnov and moved across to Perth so he could go full time.

We didn't get to see him jump too much. It was very stressful. When he competed in 2008 at Beijing the only live commentary we could get was on the radio.

Erica- Our reaction when he won was, 'Oh thank God!'.


Steve- I married Katya [Kostetskaya], and pretty soon after [first son] Max was born I had the realisation that family was the focus now. I retired at the start of 2014. It takes a while to adjust, to let go of that version of yourself and the career you've dedicated everything to.

The good thing is you've got this kind of benchmark of what passion is and how fun life can be, and you want to recreate that in another sphere. I love life. Love the boys and family life and primary school friendship groups and all that sort of stuff.

My medals are in a shoe box somewhere around the house. Max did take the gold to school for show-and-tell when the Tokyo Olympics were on."

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