Shanghai, China, May 25, 2006 - Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson had flashbacks to the 2003 season when they finished the campaign in Rio de Janeiro as the bronze medalists at the SWATCH-FIVB World Championships on Brazil’s world-famous Copacabana Beach.
Since the October 2003 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season finale, Cook and Sanderson have been slowed with shoulder problems that limited their participation to six events in 2004 and five stops last season where their best finish was a fifth in Canada where they were eliminated by Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede of Brazil.
The 2004 season featured Cook’s bid for a third-straight Olympic medal in Athens after she teamed in the first two Beach Volleyball Summer Games with Kerri Pottharst to claim a third-place at Atlanta 1996 before the Australians upset Adriana and Shelda for the Sydney 2000 gold medal on Bondi Beach.
In Athens, Cook and Sanderson advanced to the Olympic “final four” with the Brazilians and two teams from the United States. After losing to Adriana and Shelda in the semi-finals, Cook’s shoulder problems limited her play in the bronze medal match as she and Sanderson dropped a three-setter to Americans Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs.
“This is the best we have felt and played since Rio,” said Sanderson after her team’s wins over women’s Beach Volleyball tandems from Japan and France. “The last two seasons have been a struggle for us physically and we have been hurting. We are feeling a lot better now and ready to challenge for podium spots each week.”
Cook feels her team “still has a ways to go before we return to the level where we were in Rio. We are playing catch up with the rest of the teams since they started their international season two weeks ago in Italy. However, we are pleased with our play today and hope to give Adriana and Shelda a tough match Friday.”
The two-time SWATCH-FIVB World Champions and two-time Olympic silver medalists, Adriana and Shelda also won two matches Thursday over teams Japan and France to advance to their Friday morning match against the Australians, who have never beaten the Brazilians in seven previous SWATCH meetings.
“They are a great team,” said Sanderson. “I don’t think there will ever be a team to match their longevity as partners,” said Cook about the Brazilians. Adriana and Shelda are the winningest men’s or women’s team ever in international history with 31 gold medals and $1,986,115 in winnings for 100 previous SWATCH starts. “They have set records that might never be broken,” Cook added.
The winner of the Brazil/Australia match will play the victors from the contest between third-seeded Tian Jia and Wang Jie of China and the sixth-seeded Salgado (Carolina and Maria Clara) sisters of Brazil. The Chinese pair placed third two weeks ago in Italy in their first-ever SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event together.
Top-seeded Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca are joined in the top-half of the winner’s bracket with Brazilian rivals and fourth-seeded Renata Ribeiro and Talita Antunes. Juliana and Larissa, who captured the Italian SWATCH opener, face ninth-seeded Zhang Ying and Zuo Man of China with the winners playing Renata/Talita or fifth-seeded Vassiliki Arvaniti and Vasso Karadassiou of Greece.
Sixteen other women’s teams are still in contention in the double-elimination event with one defeat each. Friday’s 22-match schedule will determine the first two “final four” teams. Saturday’s six-match slate features the afternoon semi-finals to set the lineup for Sunday’s medal matches where the final two teams compete for the $32,000 first-place prize.
The China Shanghai Jinshan Open marks the ninth-straight year that China has hosted a women’s SWATCH stop. The 2006 event also features men’s play where Main Draw competition continues through Saturday. The SWATCH tour splits next week with the women in Athens and the men in Croatia.