No team has been more dominant at the Olympics over the past 20 years then the U.S. women’s basketball team, winning five straight gold medals.
They’ll try and keep that streak going in Rio.
“Training time is always our biggest challenge,” said three-time gold medalist Sue Bird. “When you get to the medal rounds it’s one and done, but we have a lot of experience in those games and look to continue our recent success.”
The Americans have won 41 consecutive Olympic contests dating back to the bronze medal game in 1992, winning by an average of nearly 30 points a game. With nine players, including Bird, Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, returning from the London Games, the U.S. is a heavy favorite to win another gold medal.
Olympic newcomers Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart will add a dynamic mix to the veteran core.
The only potential thorn for the U.S. is lack of training time. While most other countries get to spend months together preparing, the U.S. will get about two weeks before its first game.
“I’m hoping that they remember some of the stuff that we did last year at the World Championship and a couple years ago at the Olympics and maybe February at that little training camp that we had,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. “Fortunately, they’re a lot of the same players that played. So we haven’t changed a whole lot. But there’s not much time and there’s not much that you can do to get ready. You just have to trust that they’re … They never let you down. They always seem to respond when you need them to.”
The U.S. is in a difficult group with Serbia, China, Canada, Spain and Senegal.
“Obviously we’re in a tough group,” Auriemma added. “Because anytime you have the European champions like Serbia already in the group and Canada, the Americas champion, those are two really good teams. And then you add in China and Spain.”
Here are a few other things to watch for in women’s basketball at the Olympics:
A LITTLE REVENGE
The U.S. is also out for a little bit of revenge. The last time they played in Brazil at the 2006 World Championship, they lost to Russia in the semifinals. It was their only defeat in either the Olympics or worlds since 1992.
“I hadn’t thought about that until you brought it up,” Bird said laughing. “The fans down there definitely know their basketball and like rooting against us. As the deficit against Russia grew, the cheers started getting louder for them.”
While the gold medal is most likely a foregone conclusion, the other two spots on the podium are up for grabs. France was the silver medalists in 2012 and Australia has won either a silver or bronze at every Olympics since 1996. Other candidates for a medal could be Serbia, which won the European championship, and Canada.
This year there will be a change in the competition structure. With the men and women playing in different arenas until the quarterfinal rounds, teams can play on consecutive days. The U.S. doesn’t begin play until Sunday, Aug. 7 against Senegal. The Americans then play the next day against Spain. There will only be three or four games per day now instead of the six there used to be. It’s the first time this format is being used since the 1984 Olympic in Los Angeles.
If the U.S. does win another gold, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings will join Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie as the only basketball players to win four gold medals.
Australia center Liz Cambage became the first woman to dunk in the Olympics in London. Will the 6-foot-8 star have an encore in Brazil? Keep an eye on Brittney Griner, the odds are the 6-8 American will add her name to the list.
Only two other traditional team sports have longer consecutive gold medal streaks than the U.S. women’s team. The American men’s basketball team won seven consecutive golds from 1936-68. The India men’s field hockey team won six in a row from 1928-56.