Natalie Cook was the first Australian woman to compete at five Olympic Games. The Queenslander is also the only athlete to have competed in all five of the Olympic women’s beach volleyball tournaments since the sport was introduced in Atlanta in 1996. She is also the only beach volleyball competitor (male or female) to have reached the medal matches in each of the first three Olympic contests. Cook, a gold and bronze Olympic medallist, studied medicine briefly, but gave it up in 1993 to concentrate on beach volleyball. She captained the Australian indoor junior team in 1992 before switching to the sandy game.
With Kerri Pottharst as her partner, she represented Australia at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and won a bronze medal on the sport's debut. That same year, the pair won a silver medal at the world championships, and came first in the World Tour event in Japan. They split up for a time, trying out with other partners, but re-formed a year before the Sydney 2000 Olympics. They employed a full-time coach and even took on a “success” coach, who convinced them to walk over burning coals. Something worked because in the Sydney final, on Bondi beach, they beat the number one-ranked pair in the world, Brazil’s Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede.
After the Sydney Games, Pottharst retired, and Cook found a new partner in Nicole Sanderson. They won bronze at the 2003 World Titles, then reached the semi-final round at the Athens 2004 Games - finally going down to the US as Cook played with a badly injured shoulder. For the 2008 Games in Beijing, Cook teamed up with Tamsin Barnett, who had been a member of the 2000 Olympic indoor volleyball team. They lost to Brazil in the quarter-final.
At thirty-seven years of age, Cook returned for a fifth Olympic Games in London in 2012. She again teamed up with Barnett but the duo were unable to record a win at the iconic Horse Guards Parade venue.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian