Hestrie Cloete (née Storbeck) was born in 1978 in Germiston, Transvaal (now Gauteng). She grew up in the small town of Coligny, Western Transvaal (now North West Province) with her mother Martie and father Willem. At the age of 13 she was discovered by her long-time coach, Martin Marx, and started training at Lichtenburg High School. She was said to have possessed a very strong will, making it difficult for other coaches to train her. Cloete always put a great significance in maintaining a strong mind, and ascribed much of that strength to her religious faith.
In 1998, at the age of twenty, Cloete was already an African champion and had taken part in the World Cup where she finished second. Her achievements include two gold medals at the All-Africa Games (1995 and 1999), three gold medals at the African Championships in Athletics (1998, 2002 and 2004), a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games (2002), a silver and a gold medal at the World Cup in Athletics (1998 and 2002 respectively), two gold medals at the World Championships in Athletics (2001 and 2003) and two silver medals at the Olympic Games (2000 and 2004). Her personal best was in 2003 when she jumped a height of 2.06m at the World Championships.
In 2003, President Thabo Mbeki conferred her with the National Order of Ikhamanga in Silver , an award for excellence in the arts, culture, journalism and sport. She was also voted as World Best Performer in athletics.
Cloete is the first woman high jumper to successfully defend her world championship title and the first South African woman to hold a major world title since Esther Brandt in 1952, who won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Cloete retired from athletics in 2004 after the African Championships to focus on her family. In the same year she divorced her first husband, Andries. She married South African singer Jurie Els in 2007 and moved to New Zealand later in the same year. It was also the year in which she gave birth to their daughter.