When Australian Natalie Cook arrived at the beach volleyball venue for her fifth Olympics, she had to walk past a 25-foot statue of two-time defending gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings looming over Horse Guards Parade.
She will see a smaller — but no less imposing — sight on the other side of the net for her first match today: the 6-foot-2 American herself, along with partner, Misty May-Treanor.
So, how does that feel?
"I wish you could print (it)," Cook said with a laugh on Friday.
Cook has appeared in every Olympics since beach volleyball was added to the Games in 1996, winning a bronze medal in Atlanta with Kerri Ann Pottharst before the pair took gold in front of the home crowd in Sydney four years later. She was fourth with Nicole Sanderson in Athens in 2004, before finishing fifth in Beijing with Tasmin Hinchley, her current partner.
"It's a resume to dream of," Hinchley said after an hourlong practice at Horse Guards Parade, the telegenic beach volleyball venue built in Buckingham Palace's first yard.
But it's also the end for Cook, who's 37 and talking about starting a family.
"This is my fifth — and final," she said.
The beach volleyball tournament begins today with six men's and six women's pool-play matches. It will get started with Beijing bronze medalists Zhang Xi and Xue Chen of China against Russians Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova, with Americans Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal playing at night before the featured match: Jennings Walsh and May-Treanor against Cook and Hinchley.
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GYMNAST SUFFERS NECK INJURY: Anna Li, who was one of the three replacement athletes in England for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, will be in London supporting the U.S. squad despite suffering a neck injury earlier in the week that has put her in a cervical collar and taken her out of the replacement pool. According to a USA Gymnastics spokesperson, Li made the decision to stay in London and watch the competition rather than returning home immediately for further medical care.
NIKE DONATES UNIFORMS: Egypt's Olympic team won't be wearing Chinese knockoffs at the London Games. Nike said Friday it was donating its gear to the Egyptian athletes. The announcement came two days after the country's Olympic committee chairman said he had gone with a Chinese distributor because the real thing was just too expensive.