FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour

Rio Grand Slam 2016 | 8 - 13 mars 2016


Press release

First-ever Olympic beach volleyball medal winners

Natalie Cook (left) and Kerri Pottharst were the first team to win back-to-back Olympic beach volleyball medals, including netting the first-ever podium position at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games.

Lausanne, Switzerland, July 27, 2016 - When someone asks which country won the first-ever beach volleyball medal at the Olympics 20 years ago today, the usual answer is Brazil or the United States.

Well, Brazil did win two medals at the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games when beach volleyball was initially played in the Olympics as the July 27 finale featured two women’s teams from the South American country. However, the first medal winners were Natalie Cook and Kerri Ann Pottharst as the Australians captured the third spot on the Atlanta podium.

Before Sandra Pires and Jackie Silva won the gold medal by defeating Brazilian rivals Monica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel 12-11, 12-6 in 69 minutes, Cook and Pottharst upset Americans Linda Hanley and Barbra Fontana 12-11, 12-7 in a bronze medal match that lasted nearly two hours.

NOTE - See quotes from the Brazilian players at the end of this article

Atlanta 1996 Olympic medal winners (left to right) Jackie, Sandra, Monica and Adriana

The two matches were played several hours after a pipe bomb in a backpack exploded in Centennial Olympic Park at around 01:25, killing one woman and injuring more than 100 people. The happening created intense security concerns throughout the Atlanta-area and the referees assigned to work the women’s medal matches arrived only minutes prior to the third-place contest between Australia and the United States.

As noted recently on the, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics marked a change in women's sports that extended far beyond the usual milestones.  It was written that “female athletes were also being marketed like never before. After the Games, Sports Illustrated and Condé Nast started their own women's sports magazines and four domestic pro leagues launched (fast-pitch softball, soccer and two for basketball). Not all of them survived, but women's sports had clearly arrived.”

The beach volleyball competition at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games featured an 18-team field playing in a double-elimination bracket format on two courts at Clayton County International Park in Jonesboro, Georgia. The three medal winning teams were clearly the dominate pairs at the event as the Americans faltered after being favored to claim at least one podium spot.

Combined with the bombing, Michael Mayo wrote “it was an imperfect ending to a disappointing week for American women, who came into the tournament with high hopes on their home turf.  They left with the coarse taste of sand in their mouths.”  Mayo wrote that Hanley was asked about the bronze medal setback as compared to other losses, she said "How about the worst of my life."

Fontana, who Mayo wrote complained of leg fatigue, said "we're disappointed but we played hard.  We got beat out there today. It's good for volleyball. This shows the rest of the world has gotten better."

Americans Linda Hanley (No. 1) and Barbra Fontana

Cook and Pottharst (who captured the Olympic gold medal four years later in Sydney on Bondi Beach) defeated all three American teams in the competition starting with a 15-7 win in 38 minutes over Gail Castro and Deb Richardson.  To advance to the semi-finals, the Aussies posted a 15-13 win in 65 minutes over Holly McPeak and Nancy Reno.

While the Brazilians and Australians were breezing through the competition to reach the semifinals, Fontana and Hanley had to win three elimination matches after losing 15-10 in the winner’s bracket quarterfinals in 55 minutes to Monica and Adriana. One of Fontana and Hanley’s elimination wins was a 15-10 victory in 49 minutes over McPeak and Reno.

The Brazilian women’s superiority in beach volleyball was clearly evident in the semifinals as Sandra and Jackie posted a 15-8 win in 39 minutes over Fontana and Hanley while Monica and Adriana routed Cook and Pottharst 15-3 in 27 minutes.

While the pressure appeared to be too great for the Americans, Sandra and Jackie handled the high expectations as the pre-Olympic favorites by winning the four FIVB events heading into the Atlanta competition. 
"I feel great; it's just like a movie ending," said Silva, who was 34 at the time. "We really deserve this. We've been working so hard."

As Mayo wrote in his post-match article “Silva honed her beach skills in California, where she lived for seven years and played the bourgeoning pro tour. She quickly developed into the sport's dominant female player. After beach volleyball was approved as an Olympic sport, she went back to Brazil, mended relations with her national volleyball federation and scouted the courts for an appropriate partner.  She settled on Pires, 23, whom she calls quick as a cat and ferocious as a tiger.”

Except for the Americans, all of the women’s beach volleyball finalists in Atlanta will be in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games. Sandra and Pottharst will be there as television commentators while Jackie, Monica, Adriana and Cook will be involved with their Olympic committees.

Four of the eight finalists in Atlanta are now in the Volleyball Hall of Fame located in the United States at Holyoke, Mass.  Jackie was inducted first in 2006 followed by Pottharst in 2007, Cook in 2013 and Sandra in 2014.  Early this season at the Rio Grand Slam on Copacabana, Sandra was interviewed with her Atlanta gold medal in hand. In addition, both Jackie and Sandra were featured in a documentary about Brazilian women’s athletes.

All eight finalists combined to win 59 FIVB World Tour gold medals during their careers. Adriana and Hanley retired in 2000 with seven and two international titles, respectively.  Adriana and Sandra teamed to win the bronze medal at the Sydney Summer Games where Cook and Pottharst defeated Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede of Brazil for the gold medal.

Jackie, Monica and Pottharst retired in 2004. Jackie, who teamed with Sandra to validate their Olympic success by winning the 1997 FIVB World Championships in Los Angeles, finished with 12 international titles. Sandra’s last matches were in 2008 as she had 20 FIVB gold medals. She finished fifth in the Athens 2004 Olympics with Ana Paula Connolly. Pottharst won three FIVB titles and competed in the Athens Summer Games with Summer Lochowicz where the paired placed ninth.

Fontana retired in 2006 with five FIVB titles to her credit. A former president of the women’s domestic beach volleyball tour, Fontana was the team leader of the United States team at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games in China.

Cook, who started playing internationally in 1993 when she was 18, ranks first among players competing in FIVB World Tour events with 165 starts. She and Emanuel Rego of Brazil are the only players to compete in the first five beach volleyball Olympic (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) tournaments. She also competed in the Olympics with Nicole Sanderson (fourth Athens 2004) and Tamsin Hinchley (fifth Beijing 2008 and 19th London 2012).


Jackie Silva - "That medal has an unmesurable value for many resons. It was the very first time that beach volleyball has participated of the Olympic Games. It was the first female medal for Brazil. And were a accomplishment that I pursuit really hard. We did had this whole picture in the begining, but during the competition we realized how big it could be if we win. After Atlanta 1996 the beach volleyball developed a lot in Brazil and worldwide, and now it is one of the most watched in the Games."

Sandra Pires - "I had a few years in beach volleyball before Atlanta-1996 and I was very young. I did not think it could be possible win the gold some years before the Olympics. Our team was  been consolidated. The season we spent in the US was the key, we played 14 AVP's and we won only three. We take a lot of 'punches' (laughs). But we were isolated, I was just training, eating and resting, only bothered to grow up. When we returned to Brazil, we saw that we were at a high level because we won 12 stages, we managed to score with relative tranquility. It was then that I felt it was something possible."
Adriana Samuel - "I always dreamed of playing the Olympics. While I was still playing indoor volleyball, I was cut off just before the Seoul Games, so it was like a dream that I had lost. But life surprised me, I went to the beach volleyball and it became Olympic. Just being part of it was an incredible emotion. It was a silver medal that felt like gold. In very few sports you can hear you National Anthem even taking silver. We gave our best, we did our best."
Mônica Rodrigues - "I think the medal represented a lot for the four athletes, personally, and for the  beach volleyball itself. In the individual part is a dream for any top athlete. We were able to represent our country, higlighted with the only Brazil's teams final. This will be remembered forever. And a milestone for Brazil, the first women to win a olympic medal for our country. It was responsible for a growth of our sport, something professional, result of hard work and dedication of many people. That was a very big milestone."

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