Next Stop: Athens

In retrospect, winning the gold as a 20 year old was something Elena Baranova never imagined. Twelve years later, the Liberty star craves another shot at Olympic glory. Baranova will play in the Olympic Games in Athens joining her Russian counterparts for a common purpose, the gold medal.

Hailing from a basketball family, the veteran is genetically suited with talent and skill. Her mother played college basketball in Kyrgyzstan, where Elena originates, and her father played professionally there as well. The forward has been a member of the Russian and Soviet Union National Teams since 1989 and has represented her nation in two Olympics. In 1992, she played on the Unified team that won the gold in Barcelona. In Atlanta for the 1996 games, Elena was the second leading scorer (20.3 ppg) and top rebounder (13.1 rpg) for her team. She set an individual scoring record pouring in 37 points (two shy of the all-time mark) in an early round game against Japan. The WNBA All-Star then missed the 2000 games due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Elena will take her game to Athens.

After a eight year Olympic absence, the team captain's immediate plan is to help guide Russia back to the winnerís podium. caught up with Elena to talk about her third Olympic appearance...

What are your feelings about winning the Olympic Gold at 20 years old?
I was so young and I remember playing a tough game against the USA team in the semi-finals. We went into the final game against China and at that point I felt really good because we beat USA and now we were in the championships.

After missing the 2000 Olympics due to an ACL injury, how special is this Olympic quest?
All the Olympic Games are special to me. Being a part of The Games is a huge honor. Not only am I in this to participate, but also to win the gold.

Is the Russian team ready for The Games?
Yes, we are. Last season we won the European Championship. We are in very good shape, young and talented, yet very experienced.

Who are your prime competitors?
Of course Team USA is our number one competitor. Also, Australia and Brazil are teams to beat. Japan and China always put together a great team as well.

What will your team expect from you coming into the Olympics?
Shooting will not be as important for me in the Olympics. They will expect a lot of rebounds and tough defense from me.

Are there any rival players you look forward to matching up with?
I look forward to playing the USA team.

What will the Russian team need to do to compete with the renowned USA squad?
We first need to believe and trust in ourselves that we can beat the USA team. With our talent this year we are capable of competing against anyone.

Any predictions for the menís games?
I really like the USA team this year. I wouldnít call them the "Dream Team" yet, but there are great players on the team like Tim Duncan. I think the U.S. has a good chance, but there are also very good European teams as well, like Lithuania and Croatia.

Have you ever been to Greece? Are there any sites or things to do that you have planned once you arrive?
Yes, I've been to Greece many times. Many of the European Championships are held there. Itís really hot there this time of year, I know that! No plans yet for when I arrive, but Iím not worried because there is so much to do.

Olympic Gold or WNBA Championship?
I will have to say a WNBA Championship. Iíve already won the gold, I just need a WNBA Championship now. Although it still would be nice to win an Olympic Gold for a second time in my career.