Warsaw, Poland, June 7, 2007 - With a potential spot in her fourth Beach Volleyball Olympics her main goal, Australian Natalie Cook looks forward to an appearance in her sixth SWATCH-FIVB World Championships next month in the Swiss Alps where the world’s best players compete for US$1-million in prize money.
Cook and her new partner Tamsin Barnett joined the list of women’s Beach Volleyball teams with a legitimate chance to win July’s SWATCH-FIVB World Championships in the Swiss village of Gstaad after capturing a gold medal last week in Korea in only their third international start together.
“That title was a real confidence builder for both Tamsin and myself,” said the 32-year old Cook after her team’s 21-17 and 21-14 win here Thursday over 26th-seeded Dana Cooke and Annie Martin of Canada in the first-round of this week’s US$200,000 GE Money Bank Warsaw Open at Agrykola Prak in Mysliwiecka.
The GE Money Bank Warsaw Open is also part of the qualifying process for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games where a team’s best eight finishes from SWATCH FIVB World Tour events and FIVB-recognized Continental Championship Finals through July 20, 2008, will be counted. And, the second annual Warsaw stop will also provide points to determine the 48-team field for the women’s 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Championships to be played July 24-29.
The 600 Olympic qualifying points from the Seoul win more than doubled Cook and Barnett’s total from their first two SWATCH placements in China and Singapore last month. The Australians compiled 540 points with a seventh- (300 points) and ninth-place (240) finishes in the first two FIVB events in Shanghai and Sentosa, respectively.
“After struggling the past three years with various injuries, the Seoul gold medal validated my feelings that I can still compete with the best players in the world,” added Cook, who started playing on SWATCH-FIVB World Tour when she was 17 in 1993. “And for Tamsin, winning a gold medal in only her 16th FIVB event proved that she has the ability to compete at a very high level.”
Despite the Seoul SWATCH success, Cook still feels that her team has “room improvement. Unlike most of the top teams, we have been playing together for only five months. We still have a lot of work to do. Every event is important, including the upcoming Grand Slam and World Championship events. We’ll use this week’s event along with our stop in Portugal next week to prepare for the five major stops this season.”
With increased prize money, the SWATCH Grand Slams and World Championships provide more points than an “open” FIVB event. While an ‘open” title nets a team 600 FIVB points, a Grand Slam win in Paris, Norway, Berlin and/or Austria in the next two months gives a gold medal tandem 800 points.
The 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Championships will earn the winning team 1,000 FIVB points and Cook has her “eye” on collecting a gold medal to add to her Olympic championship won at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games with Kerri Pottharst.
Shoulder problems hampered Cook’s opportunity for her third-straight Olympic medal in the Athens 2004 Games with Nicole Sanderson as the pair placed fourth after losing the three-set bronze medal match to Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs of the United States. Cook and Pottharst were the first team ever to win an Olympic Beach Volleyball medal when the Aussies claimed the bronze at the Atlanta 1996 summer Games.
“Winning a medal at any FIVB event is really hard,” said Cook, who also won “open” SWATCH stops in Japan and Macau with Pottharst. “The pressure at an Olympics is unreal. And the World Championships during an Olympic qualifying process produces even more pressure to play well and to reach the podium due to the increased points.”
Cook has “reached” a SWATCH-FIVB World Championship podium in 2003 when she and Sanderson split a pair of “final four” matches with teams from Americans to capture the bronze medal on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. After a three-set setback to eventual World Champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, Cook and Sanderson defeated Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan in straight sets to place third.
While Barnett will be playing in her first World Championships in Gstaad, Cook will be one of 14 women’s players that have competed in all the six of the second-most prestigious Beach Volleyball event on the planet. Cook and Pottharst placed ninth in all three of their World Championship appearances together (1997, 1999 and 2001). With Sanderson sidelined with her own shoulder problems, Cook and Summer Lochowicz finished 25th at the 2005 SWATCH-FIVB World Championships in Berlin.
“I feel that I actually have won two World Championships medals,” Cook noted. “Kerri and I captured a silver medal on Copacabana in 1996 before 15,000 Brazilians cheering hard for their team (Sandra Pires and Jackie Silva). It was a pivotal finish as it gave Kerri and me the confidence that we could compete with the best players in the world in a pressure-packed situation.”
With that said, Cook feels that she and Barnett are ahead of schedule in duplicating the success that she had with Pottharst. “As I said, the Seoul gold medal really helped us as a team,” Cook added. “Now that Tamsin has won a medal, she wants more. One event doesn’t create respect; you earn it by playing consistently at a high level over a period of time. The key is to validate, starting with this week’s event through next year’s Olympics.”
The 2007 international Beach Volleyball calendar is highlighted by the SWATCH-FIVB World Championships July 24-29 in Switzerland. With nearly $9-million in prize money to be distributed this year, the 2007 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour season also marks the 21st-year of international Beach Volleyball events sanctioned by the FIVB.