The Tradition Continues
|The USA won an unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal on Saturday in London.|
|Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images|
Mission accomplished. The drive for five is complete.
With an 86-50 win over France on Saturday, the United States Women’s National Team won its fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal, an unprecedented feat in women’s team sports.
The gold medal win in London was the 41st consecutive victory in Olympic competition for the United States, dating back to the bronze medal game in Barcelona in 1992.
How dominant has the USA been over the past two decades?
During the winning streak the USA has won each game by an average of nearly 30 points, with only a single game decided by single digits. During this year’s semifinal game against Australia, the USA trailed at halftime for the first time in 12 years.
“No other country in the world has the legacy that we do in basketball, so when we took the court, our 12 players tonight, they had that legacy with them,” said USA coach Geno Auriemma. “And as the game goes on the other team starts to sense we're not just playing these 12, we're playing something bigger than these 12. And that's a testament to all of the other coaches and all of the other players that contributed to this over the past 20 years.”
Heading into the Olympics, the members of Team USA acknowledged the pressure that comes with representing the United States in women’s basketball. The teams of the past laid a foundation that no player on this team wanted to crack.
“There’s been many players before us who have played in the Olympics and set the standard,” said Sue Bird, who won her third gold medal. “And we did it for them just as much as we did it for ourselves.”
|Consecutive Gold Medals -- Olympic Teams|
|1936-1968||USA Men's Basketball||7 Gold Medals|
|1928-1956||India Men's Field Hockey||6 Gold Medals|
|1996-2012||USA Women's Basketball||5 Gold Medals|
|1964-1976||USSR Men's Ice Hockey||4 Gold Medals|
|1920-1932||Canada Men's Ice Hockey||4 Gold Medals|
|Source: NBA TV|
“You never want to be that team that ends the streak, said Candace Parker. “So I think it was great for us to continue the winning tradition and get another gold medal.”
After being disappointed in her performance against Australia in the semifinals, Parker saved her best for last as she was the star of the gold medal game for the United States, posting team highs with 21 points and 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes off the bench.
“We started Candace for the early part of the tournament and there just wasn’t any kind of a rhythm or any kind of a flow, because what happened is that Tamika Catchings is out of position,” said Auriemma. “So I took a shot and said ‘well I don't think there's anyone else in the world that has someone like that coming off the bench, so let’s see where that goes.’
“And tonight she was spectacular; I think she was the Candace Parker that everyone hopes they can see every single night.”
Parker’s willingness to come off the bench was emblematic of the sacrifices that each member of Team USA made for the collective goal of winning the gold medal.
“We knew that our role was going to be different here coming in,” said WNBA scoring leader Angel McCoughtry.” I accepted my role; I wanted to be the one that brings energy off the bench. But the great thing about our team was even when we subbed, it was still like you had stars in, we didn't lose a thing.”
Throughout the tournament, McCoughtry was often the best player on the floor for the United States in her limited minutes. In less than 15 minutes per game, McCoughtry finished second on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg), while leading the team in FG percentage (.602) and steals (2.5 spg).
“I feel like I’m on top of the world right now, I’m so excited,” she said. “I’ve got a gold medal, my first one. My name is not Angel McCoughtry. It’s Angel McCoughtry, Olympic gold medalist.”
McCoughtry was not the only first-time Olympian to shine for the United States as Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones all played key roles on the way to gold.
“I never even envisioned winning a gold medal,” said Charles. “I never envisioned being on an Olympic team but with hard work and perseverance, just me having my faith, I was able to get it done.”
“It was surreal for me,” said Jones about receiving her first gold medal.” It was my first time, and I just can’t believe I was here. You dream about this stuff when you were a little kid and to live it is a dream.”
For Parker, the dream of becoming an Olympian began while watching the team that began the winning streak that she just helped extend in London.
“I remember sitting on my couch in 1996 watching the USA women play and watching them win the gold medal,” she said. “I remember watching Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, I remember watching them and being like ‘man I want to be where they are.’”
Teresa Edwards -- a five-time Olympian and member of the 1996 team with Staley, Leslie and Swoopes -- was thoroughly impressed by the team she watched in London.
“What these kids have been doing is amazing,” she said. “Without much time to practice, in the middle of the WNBA season and they look good. It's like the whole world knows who we are. I'm really proud of them.”
“We know those players, they know us, we feel that support and you know that legacy is there and you just want to take the torch - our own little torch I guess - and kind of keep it going and pass it on to the next,” said Bird.
What’s next are the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and what will likely be another dominant team for the United States. While the availability of three-time gold medalists Tamika Catchings, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi may not be known, they have laid their own foundation for the next generation of USA Basketball.
That generation includes the young players on the 2012 squad – Moore, Charles, McCoughtry, Fowles and Parker – who will be 30 and under when the 2016 Games roll around. But don’t count out the vets quite yet.
“Oh yeah. If it was up to me, I would be on the team, but four years is a long time,” said Taurasi when asked about playing in Rio. “It’s a long time and you don’t know what can happen in four years, but would I love to be on the team again? Sure. There’s no better feeling to putting on the jersey and representing your country. It’s one thing I always look forward to.”
The players wearing the jerseys will change. The coaches guiding them from the sidelines will change. But the tradition lives on. The standard has been set and matched by the last five teams to take the court for the United States in the Olympics.
“We do what we do in the United States and we take great pride in our basketball program,” said Auriemma. “It doesn’t matter who the coach is, it doesn’t matter who the players are, there’s a certain level of expectation when you coach and play for USA Basketball. That expectation is to win, and we take it very seriously.”