“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses–behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights” – Muhammad Ali
At that team meeting, Steve told us to concentrateon Barbara Fontana, and then proceeded to tell us that she didn’t have a weak shot! We virtually told him to go away and give us a plan to attack Linda Hanley, because we thought Barb was just too good. Our game didn’t match up against her. Against his better judgement, Steve came back to us with a plan to beat Linda. You see, Steve was confident that if we could break Barb, a win was assured. But we were happy with our alternate plan, because it seemed easier, and that night we slept like babies.
The next day, we followed our plan to a ‘T’, targeting Linda, who had an answer for everything we threw at her and came back twice as hard. An Olympic medal was the only thing missing from her CV. She is a legend of the sport who had been working on the sands of California for 20 years, and this day she was ‘in the zone’. Our master plan wasn’t working! I know now that this is because it was born of avoidance and fear. We doubted our ability to break Barb and we took what we thought would be the easy route. If you think you can’t, you’ll be right!
We reverted to plan A—the plan we didn’t think we could execute—knowing full well that when it was over, we would have to eat our words. Steve was right again! He was probably up there the whole time pulling his hair out! Once we settled on Barb, we slowly started to get on top of her. She was, as we told Steve, coming up with all the shots. Because we started on Linda, we were down 9–6. This is when we made the switch. We climbed back from 11–9 down to 11–11 with some tough serves and transition plays. The next point would win the set.It was a scrambled play, and Kerri managed to end it with a well-disguised, unconventional short set over the net. From the moment we changed our plan, we played the game of our lives.
The Voice that had told me in the previous match that we were already beaten had been (at least for this match) subdued.We went on to win the second set 12–7, and at one stage held a 7–1 lead—we were pretty excited about being so close to the win. They came back to 7–6 to loud chants from the partisan crowd: “USA, USA”! My family was in the stands, and in that little gap between the “USA”s, I could ear my dad shouting out “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”. We pressed on to finish the match strongly. Barb had been very successful the whole match with her arc shot (over my head, to the deep corner) but when it counted, I was ready. I could hear the commentator clearly—it intensified my anxiety and nerves: “Cook with the ball. Bronze medal point, number three”. I served to Barb, she went to her faithful arc, I held my ground and dug it, and put it away for the match.
After two hours and six minutes, after experiencing two hard-fought sets, lightning, rain, cold and intense heat, we were Olympic medallists. Seeing the look on Hanley’s face, I was relieved again, so glad that it was not me! I could imagine how she was feeling, and wished that there could be one medal each. The reaction after our win was amazing as we faced a whirlwind of press conferences and autographs. Luc Longley was courtside and waiting to congratulate us. What a day! How do you top that? Every day of our lives had been geared toward this event. Now what? In the days that followed I almost felt empty. I almost felt as though I no longer had a purpose. In my diary, I wrote a quote from Louis L’Amour: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning”. I didn’t know at that time just how that was about to apply to my life, but I felt its meaning.
I realised after that day what had been missing. How was it that I was able to suppress The Voice during that match, and not previously? It was then I recognised that it had been my constant companion all those years, giving me poisonous advice on how to sabotage myself and stay in my comfort zone. After that day, I came to the conclusion that it’s only emotional and mental strength that separates the best from the rest. The strength to fight and never give up is what counts. If only I’d felt that way the day before! In that game, as much as I never gave up physically, my mind was telling me that it was all over. I didn’t believe I had the strength to weather the storm. Now a much more hopeful challenge faced me: How do I build on that inner strength?
After the bronze medal win, I wrote to all those people who had been positive, affirming voices in my life: “We couldn’t have done it without you and look forward to continuing our relationship through to 2000. As one door closes, another opens. It’s the beginning of a bright future for us and the sport of beach volleyball”. I knew now what I needed to do.
“How I use my body, my voice, my eyes, my hands, in addition to the words I use and the way I use words, is my only tool.” -Bandler and Grinder
I suppose that if I had to summarise the Atlanta experience and the learning we had gained, I’d have to say that we struggled mentally and emotionally, but didn’t make other teams fight for their points. We had only been playing together for 18 months, and our coach, Steve, was trying to create a game that would be effective against any opponents. He had tried to speed up the sets, speed up the offence, keep people off guard. We were not as skilful as other teams, and we had to try to beat them with our power and speed.
I’ve often been asked the difference between the bronze medal in Atlanta and the gold in Sydney. In Sydney, we had so much power over that little voice. When it spoke up, it was just overridden by an intense desire to overcome all obstacles. By the time we got to Sydney, training felt ‘wrong, because it seemed so easy. It seemed a matter of rehearsing everything physically, then attaching the right emotions to the right situations. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Obviously, getting to that stage took quite a bit of effort, self-realisation, a little pain and a lot of enlightenment.