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Host nation pip Brazil to beach volleyball glory

Disappointed at missing out on victory at Atlanta 1996, where they had taken bronze, Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst had briefly tried playing with other partners, but decided that their best chance of success was together.

They were both driven by the desire to win gold in front of their home fans in 2000. To that end, they decided it wasn't enough to simply try to perfect their tactics and technique; they also needed to develop their winning mentality.

So as well as a full-time volleyball coach, the pair also brought in a “success coach”, who, among other things, taught them how to walk across burning coals. Everything they were taught was about imagining victory, to the extent they even used gold toothpaste.

It seemed to help. In the first round they beat Mexico, then saw off China, before a victory over Italy in the quarter-finals.

In the semi-finals they were joined by a team from Japan and two from Brazil. Cook and Pottharst were pitted against defending champion Sandra Pires and her new partner Adriana Samuel, a silver medallist in 1996. They were a formidable pairing on paper, but did not gel as well as their Australian opponents, who ended up winning quite easily.

A further Brazilian obstacle stood in their path to gold, in the form of Adriana Behr and Shelda Bede. The crowd on Bondi Beach was wildly confident, but the record book showed that in 17 previous meetings between the two teams, Cook and Pottharst had won only three times.

The Brazilians took an early lead but were regularly pegged back at crucial moments, with the Australians winning the first set after Cook's serve hit the top of the net, wobbled, and then dropped over.

The second set followed a similar pattern with the Brazilians taking an early lead before the home team pulled them back. With the score tied at 10-10, and tension levels high, Pottharst scored a vital ace. That gave the Australians match point and, in the next point, Adriana shot wide. It had been a tough, nip-and-tuck contest, but the home team had won a memorable gold.


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