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Australians Win Beach Volleyball

September 25, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ It all came down to the home crowd for Australia’s Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst.

The more the flag-waving throng at Bondi Beach stomped and cheered, the more Cook waved her arms, inspiring the roar to get even louder. It paid off, as the defending bronze medalists came back twice to defeat world champions Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar of Brazil 12-11, 12-10 and win the women’s beach volleyball gold medal.

Brazil also took home the bronze, as Adriana Samuel and Sandra Pires defeated Japan’s Yukiko Takahashi and Teru Saiki 12-4, 12-10. Despite the two medals that maintained Brazil’s standing as the world beach volleyball power, Bedes cried on the medal stand and later at the post-match news conference.

``Of course, we wanted very much to win gold,″ she said. ``At the same time, we’re very proud to win silver.″

For Cook and Pottharst, the victory rewarded their determination to improve on a third-place finish at the first Olympic beach volleyball competition in Atlanta four years ago. They trained hard, and even used a ``success″ coach who made them envision winning the gold and surround themselves with the color.

``Gold attracts gold,″ Cook explained, saying she even had gold toothpaste and gold shampoo. ``It got to the point where people thought I was goofy.″

Not anymore. Faced with the pressure of being the No. 1 seed in an Olympics in their home country, they chose to use that dynamic as motivation, Pottharst said.

``We decided that the pressure would be a positive thing and the crowd would lift us and push us through,″ she said. ``And that’s what happened. Each game we got better, and today we took it to a higher level. We played our best.″

Cook and Pottharst delighted the dancing, screaming spectators with inspired play, diving for every shot in two tense games that could have gone either way. At critical moments, Cook encouraged the crowd to cheer louder, though it hardly seemed possible despite the gray skies and cool breeze on the first cloudy day at Bondi Beach since play began Sept. 16.

Cook and Pottharst came back from an 11-8 deficit with four straight points to win the first game 12-11. Momentum shifted several times and the Australians got some bounces, with Cook’s final serve catching the top of the net and barely dropping over for the game-winner.

Bede and Behar recovered in the second game, improving their passing and shot-making to jump to leads of 7-3 and 8-5 as the match extended past an hour. Once again, the Australians came back, with Pottharst desperately saving a Bede smash with her right fist, then smashing the setup from Cook to tie it at 8.

The Brazilians went ahead again 10-8, and Cook and Pottharst came back again, with Cook smashing a winner to tie it at 10. A Pottharst ace on the right boundary made it 11-10, and when Behar and Bede couldn’t reach a final shot by Cook, the crowd exploded again.

Behar said the crowd made no difference, as she and Bede could block it out.

``It’s a very beautiful thing. It’s a big party,″ she said. ``But the game is played between the four lines.″

In the bronze-medal game, Samuel and Pires combined power and style to outclass the sixth-seeded Japanese.

Four years ago at the inaugural Olympic beach volleyball competition in Atlanta, Pires and Jackie Silva defeated Samuel and Monica Rodriques for the gold. Playing together this time, Pires and Samuel lost 15-6 in the semifinals to Cook and Pottharst, but showed no lack of intensity in playing for bronze.

They fell behind 2-0 in the first game but never appeared threatened, gaining control with flawless passing to set each other up for easy kills over the shorter Japanese. A seven-point run made it 10-3 and the Brazilians ended it at 12-4 on a Pires serve that Takahashi returned wide.

Brazil again broke away after an early deficit in the second game, taking a 9-3 lead. Takahashi tried to instigate a comeback, but the Japanese were unable to get closer than 11-5 before a Samuel smash ended the match.

The loss came on Saiki’s 29th birthday, but she wasn’t complaining.

``Yes, we did lose but we stayed in the tournament until my birthday so it’s the best present I could have,″ she said. Takahashi also called the Sydney experience good, even though she again failed to medal at her fourth Olympics.

She represented Japan in indoor volleyball in Seoul and Barcelona, and again in beach volleyball in Sydney and Atlanta.

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