More than Gold — Natalie Cook’s Olympic master plan
- 24 January 2020 3:47PM
Having competed at five Olympic Games and won Olympic Gold in Sydney 2000, few athletes are as qualified to mentor young Queensland athletes as Natalie Cook OAM.
Helping them win Olympic medals and reach their full potential is the new goal for the former beach volleyballer who now heads up Elite Success and Partnerships at the Queensland Academy of Sport.
Part of that roadmap to success involves helping athletes become well-rounded people who are resilient, mentally strong and have already started thinking about future study and alternative career paths to ensure they have balance in their lives.
“My role really is to inspire overall holistic performance as well, to keep the mental health in check,” Natalie said.
“Dual careers, we talk about at the QAS, so that they are not just solely focused on their sport, they have something to balance that."
“It really is about how do we make our athletes robust, strong, confident, powerful as people."
“And one of my goals will be to find out how we can really debrief our athletes – if some don’t have the performances they want, how do they feel good about their performance, to go and be role models in the community.”
Getting our athletes Olympic-ready
Queensland’s elite athletes are counting down to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.
As the new Athlete Ambassador for Queensland, Natalie is focused on helping them be as Olympic-ready as they possibly can.
“They are getting ready emotionally, mentally, physically,” she said.
“They have to be eating all the right foods, getting the right rest, because rest is really important – sleeping, recovering.
“Your mindset – how you manage the butterflies, the anxiety, the excitement, because when you get to an Olympic Games, everything is amplified.
“There is a whole team of people working on a strategy so that our athletes can be Olympic-ready.”
Preparing for 2032 starts now
In planning for future success at a possible 2032 Queensland Olympic Games, the work has already started, as QAS athletes go into the classroom to inspire the next generation of stars.
“We are doing programs like Olympics Unleashed, where our athletes get to go in and talk to our kids about winning, losing, how to get up when it doesn’t go to plan and the resilience that is required to not only be an athlete but how you can use that at school,” Natalie said.
“And when I look at the 10-year-olds’ eyes and I know that they have the possibility of being an Olympian at home in Queensland in 2032, I think I might be more excited than them right now.”
Identifying talented athletes and finding events that best suit their abilities will continue to be a key strategy in the quest for medals.
“There are amazing talent ID programs where we can go into schools and look at the body type, the height,” said Natalie.
“There are some of those measurements or metrics that sports really like to target, so rowing, for example – your lung capacity, your wingspan, they look for those measurements and then they say, hey would you like to try rowing, beach volleyball, swimming, we think you would be great."
“So that little bit of inspiration, that little bit of encouragement may find us the 2032 Olympic Gold medallist from Queensland.”
How the QAS helps athletes
Most Queensland Olympians have passed through the Queensland Academy of Sport at some stage of their athletic journey.
A $44.5 million investment over three years will focus on delivering innovative high-performance programs which give our athletes a competitive edge, including new training facilities and upgrades to the QAS gym.
The high-performance centre will continue to be the engine which drives future success.
“The QAS is so important for our athletes,” said Natalie.
“It’s like the home of where they train for their sport, but then in the gym they get to mix with other athletes which is really important when you go to an Olympics."
“As a swimmer you want to meet the beach volleyball player or the track and field athlete or the hockey player."
“It really feels like there is a home and that people care about your performance – the sport psychiatrists, the nutritionists, the physiotherapists, the scientists are all there for the athletes’ benefit."
“That is really why the QAS is so important – so our athletes have a home and they can feel like they are supported on their journey.”
High-performance never retires
While her Olympic beach volleyball days may be behind her, Natalie is taking that elite-athlete mindset with her on her post-athletic career.
“I feel like I am a high-performance athlete in my mind,” said Natalie.
“I try to overlay that now in other sports like golf, that doesn’t require as much intensity as running around a sandpit.
“But I just love watching the Games, I get excited for our athletes marching out into the opening ceremony because I can feel their butterflies and their nervousness and their excitement and what’s coming.
Natalie says Queenslanders have a history of dominating the Australian medal tally at major championships – winning 45 per cent of Australia’s total medal tally at the recent Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The athletes are already showing great form heading into Tokyo.
“When you wear the green and gold for Australia, if you’re a Queenslander you tend to wear the maroon underneath, so it really is something we’re very proud of, we’re passionate, we’re patriotic, as Queenslanders and as athletes,” she said.
Not everyone has to be a high-performance athlete
As an experienced wellness coach, Natalie is just as passionate about the health and well-being of everyday Queenslanders as she is about elite athletes.
So the goal of Activate! Queensland – to get more Queenslanders moving, more often, really does strike a chord.
“How we get more kids moving, how we get more families moving, how we keep the elderly moving so that Queenslanders can be happier, healthier, fitter and lead the best life they can,” she said.
“That’s through sporting clubs, through recreation offerings, you know – walking through the Botanic Gardens.
“Anything that is available for you to move your body will actually help your mental health and your physical health.
“We really can use sport and recreation to tackle some of the bigger challenges in everyday society.”
Find out more about Activate! Queensland.
Natalie: Hi, I’m Natalie Cook, five-time Olympian and Gold medallist in the sport of beach volleyball. And I’m so excited to be a part of the Queensland Government’s team in not only working on bringing an Olympic Games to Queensland for 2032 but how our athletes prepare now for Tokyo in 2020.
Not only on the field but off the field – how do we make our athletes whole, rounded, holistic, stronger, successful people and therefore they can give back to our community, go and inspire our young athletes that we may see in 2032.
It’s a big job, there is a lot to be done, I’m super excited and I look forward to seeing you out in the community and you yourself to get physically fit, physically active, get out and get moving, see you soon!