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Day at the beach

Aussies win gold in front of home fans

Updated: Thursday November 16, 2000 4:51 PM

  Australia's Kerry Pottharst, right, celebrates with her partner Kerri Cook after they defeated Brazil in two sets to win the gold medal. AP

SYDNEY, Australia ( -- Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst won gold in women's beach volleyball in front of a frenzied crowd.

The Australian due defeated Brazilian world champions Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede 12-11, 12-10 for the Olympic title Monday.

"In our home country in front of 10,000 people, this win is for everyone that has helped us and supported us over the last six years," Cook said.

Earlier, Sandra Pires and Adriana Samuel of Brazil each won their second Olympic medal, teaming to defeat Yukiko Takahashi and Teru Saiki of Japan 12-4, 12-6 to take the bronze.

The medal ceremony became a hug-fest for both the winners and the losers. The gold, achieved with five straight match wins, was a two-medal improvement from the bronze the Australian pair won in Atlanta four years ago.

Cook and Pottharst delighted the dancing, screaming throng with inspired play, diving for every shot and finally overcoming the Brazilians.

"We reminded each other to have fun out there," Pottharst said. "Keep going, take risks and play with our hearts."

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It was the first cloudy day since play began at Bondi Beach on Sept. 16, but the cool breeze and gray skies failed to subdue a sellout crowd that roared with every rally.

The gold-medal match required little of the stadium announcer's usual prompting to cheer and dance, as the flag-waving home crowd had Australian favorites to support.

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, with Bede and Behar taking advantage of errors by Pottharst to take the lead, and then the Australians putting on pressure with hard serving that forced the Brazilians into mistakes.

The Australians also 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 set-up 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.

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, her third error after displaying a precise touch in the quarterfinal and semifinal matches.

Brazil's dominance continued in the second game, again breaking away after an early deficit with six straight points and a 9-3 lead. Both Pires and Samuel dived to save kill attempts by the Japanese, then exhibited their athleticism with leaping smashes Takahashi and Saiki were unable to reach.

Takahashi tried to instigate a comeback, serving an ace that Pires was unable to handle, but Brazilians responded with a Samuel dig for a point off a Saiki smash to make it 11-5. They completed the game and match on a Samuel smash the Japanese couldn't handle.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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