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Olympics-Beach volleyball-No ball sports? Cook gets last laugh
LONDON Aug 4 (Reuters) - A sign that reads "ball sports prohibited" is all that is left on Sydney's Bondi Beach at the spot where beach volleyball players Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst won Olympic gold for the host nation at the 2000 Games.
But unlike the long-gone Olympic arena, the memories of that moment of glory will never disappear for five-time Olympian Cook, 37, who was eliminated from the London Games this week.
"I remember it very clearly. I think I will for the rest of my life," Cook told reporters days after she and new partner Tamsin Hinchley were knocked out in the group stage of the 2012 Olympics in an inauspicious end to a record-breaking career.
"September 25th, 2000, 2:30 in the afternoon. I remember where the ball landed, I remember where my family was, I remember the emotion going through my body, standing on top of the podium, singing 'Advance Australia Fair'.
"It's the greatest moment of an athlete's career, hence I continued to play to try to have that again."
Cook, the first Australian woman athlete in any sport to compete in five Olympics, was in tears in the early hours of Thursday after she and Hinchley lost to a younger Czech pair.
They were watched by Cook's former team mate Pottharst, who now commentates for Australian TV.
Days later Cook was back to her usual, cheerful self and had no regrets.
A second gold would never have been the same, she said, although it would have given her a chance to sing a better rendition of the Australian national anthem after what she described as an atrocious performance at Bondi.
"This sport is addictive. It stays in your blood," added Cook, who revealed how she and Pottharst continue to celebrate their golden moment.
"We go to Bondi, we sit in the place where the stadium was erected, because they had signs on the wall saying 'ball sports prohibited' and we had photos of the stadium being built with that sign.
"So we sit there under the sign ... and we crack open a bottle of champagne every September 25th ... and I talk about how good I was and she'll talk about how good she was," she said, laughing.
"KEEP SAND OUT OF PANTS"
Cook said nothing could prepare you for what it feels like to win Olympic gold in your own country. She even came close to wishing well to Britain's athletes at the London Games despite the age-old sporting rivalry between Britain and Australia.
"It's changed my life. The day after we won an Olympic gold medal I was on a stamp. Everybody in Australia knew who I was," she said, adding ruefully: "I do get called Kerri Pottharst a lot."
Despite her early exit from the 2012 Olympics, Cook spoke warmly of London and of the spectacular beach volleyball venue built for the Games.
The 15,000-seat temporary stadium stands on Horse Guards Parade, a vast esplanade next to Number 10 Downing Street, residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cook said she hoped British authorities would preserve the memory of beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade, perhaps with a plaque or small statue that would be more fitting than the "ball sports prohibited" sign at Bondi.
She was unsurprised by the huge popularity of London 2012's beach volleyball, a sport not often seen in rainy Britain.
As well as the party atmosphere at the venue, where non-stop music blares from loudspeakers and dancers in retro beachwear entertain spectators during breaks, the sport itself was a great spectacle that was easy to follow, she said.
"You know, ball over net, don't touch net, three hits each side, keep sand out of pants. That's really what the sport is about. And that's what I've been doing for 20 years and I've still not mastered it," she added in a peal of laughter. (Editing by Mark Meadows)
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