When the U.S. Olympic team arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, it opened the competition as the five-time defending gold medalists – an unprecedented feat in Olympic competition. Two weeks and eight wins later, the United States have extended that streak to six straight gold medals and they did so in dominant fashion. Take a look back at the journey to this unparalleled team success, which began in 1996 in Atlanta.
1996 (Atlanta, United States)
The team by which all others are compared. A team that was as dominant as it was popular, winning the gold medal in its home country, in front of sell-out crowds in Atlanta. Names like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Katrina McClain, Ruthie Bolton, Teresa Edwards, Nikki McCray, Jennifer Azzi, Dawn Staley and Rebecca Lobo all on the same team. The team came together almost a year before the Olympics and embarked on a 52-game pre-Olympic tour against top collegiate and international teams.
They were unbeaten (52-0) in their preparation and likewise in the Olympics, going 8-0 and winning the gold medal with a 111-87 win over Brazil. The 24-point win in the gold medal game was reflective of their dominance throughout the tournament as they averaged 102.4 points per game and won by an average of 26.3 points in their eight games. Leslie led the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game, one of four players (McClain, Swoopes, Bolton) to average at least 12 points a contest. After taking home the bronze in Barcelona in 1992, the gold was back with the Americans and it wasn’t leaving anytime soon.
|FG%||Katrina McClain||.739 (51-69)|
2000 (Sydney, Australia)
The U.S. brought back half of the 1996 team for the 2000 Games in Sydney, and when it came time to add more players to the squad, picking up the reigning WNBA MVP is always a good choice. Yolanda Griffith joined Lisa Leslie as part of a dominant frontline for the Americans. Leslie once again led the team in scoring (15.8), while Griffith dominated the boards (8.8) and shot a team-best 68.5% from the field as Team USA went 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 21.75 points.
But the real story of the 2000 Olympic team was that it marked the final appearance for co-captain Teresa Edwards, who competed in five Olympics for U.S. starting in 1984 in Los Angeles. She racked up four golds and one bronze medal and remains tied for the most games played for USA Basketball (32), ranks first all-time in assists (142) and steals (59), third in scoring (265) and 10th in rebounding (68).
|FG%||Yolanda Griffith||.685 (37-54)|
2004 (Athens, Greece)
Five players returned from the 2000 Olympic Team, including Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley from the 1996 team as well. They were joined by a new generation of players in their early 20s – Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash and Tamika Catchings – that would represent Team USA for years to come. But this was still a squad dominated by the veteran presence of Leslie (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg), Swoopes (9.1 ppg, 2.4 spg), Staley (2.9 apg) and Tina Thompson (14.1 ppg).
Of the younger players, only Catchings would start during the Olympics, but the other gained valuable experience that would enable them to take the torch and run with it in future Olympics as this was the final appearance for Swoopes, Staley and Griffith.
|FG%||Ruth Riley||.667 (10-15) (limited attempts)|
|FG%||Yolanda Griffith||.605 (26-43)|
2008 (Beijing, China)
The 2008 Games in Beijing represented the swan song for Olympic legend Lisa Leslie, who joined Teresa Edwards as the only players in Olympic basketball history – male or female – to win four gold medals with Leslie being the first to do it in consecutive Olympics. Leslie started all eight games for the U.S. but for the first time since she began representing her country in the Olympics she was not the team’s leading scorer. That went to first-time Olympian Sylvia Fowles, part of another youth movement that saw Team USA add the likes of Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter and Candace Parker to an already stacked roster.
As one legend was making her exit, she could see the foundation that she helped build in 1996 was as strong as ever and that the team was set up for success for years to come. Just as Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird learned from exiting players Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley in the 2004 Games, this year Fowles and Parker were able to learn from Leslie and fellow departing legend Tina Thompson. But it wasn’t all about learning and passing the torch, this team was dominant on the floor together, leading the Olympics in scoring (94.2 ppg) and scoring defense (56.6 ppg allowed) for an average win margin of 37.6 ppg. For the third consecutive Olympics, the U.S. defeated Australia (led by three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson) in the gold medal game. While the Aussies had traditionally challenged the Americans, this year the U.S. rolled to a 27-point victory to claim gold.
|Steals||Tamika Catchings/Sue Bird||1.8|
|FG%||Tamika Catchings||.724 (21-29)|
2012 (London, England)
The 2012 Games in London were the first under UConn coach Geno Auriemma and he brought his winning ways from the college game to the international scene without a hitch. Similar to many of his teams at Connecticut, his roster was stacked with elite talent and it was his job to get the best out of them when it mattered most. And that is exactly what happened. The team was led by the tri-captains of Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings – the trio that made their Olympic debuts together back in 2004 and earned their third consecutive golds in 2012.
Half of the Team USA roster played for Auriemma at UConn (Bird, Taurasi, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones and Maya Moore), which helped the team function like a well-oiled machine despite limited practice time together. They played a free-flowing, unselfish and beautiful brand of basketball, which led to balanced scoring and contributions from the top of the roster to the bottom, with no player averaging more than 25 minutes per game. Taurasi led the team in scoring (12.4 ppg) as one of four players to average at least 10 points per game. Candace Parker led the team in rebounding (7.8) and Bird was the floor general running the show and setting up her teammates with a team-best 4.5 assists per game. The team would average 90.6 points and win games by an average of 34.4 points. New coach, same dominance.
|FG%||Angel McCoughtry||.620 (31-50)|
2016 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
For the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the United States brought back nine members of the team that won the gold in London in 2012 as well as head coach Geno Auriemma for his second run at the helm of the program. Led by the tri-captains of Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi – who each tied Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards with their fourth Olympic gold medals – the team went a perfect 8-0 and won their games by an average of 37.25 points.
With their 101-72 win over Spain in the gold medal game, the United States extended its Olympic winning streak to 49 straight games on their way to six straight gold medals on the biggest international stage. While the 2016 featured much of the squad from 2012, there were three newcomers that won their first Olympic medals in Rio. Brittney Griner started every game for Team USA, while reigning MVP Elena Delle Donne and Rookie of the Year favorite Breanna Stewart providing a spark off the bench. As veterans Bird, Catchings and Taurasi are set to make their exit from USA Basketball, the next generation is ready to keep the dominance of Team USA alive.
|Rebounds||Maya Moore/Brittney Griner/Sylvia Fowles||5.6|
|FG%||Breanna Stewart||.733 (22-30)|
|3P%||Diana Taurasi||.578 (33-57)*|
|*33 3PM an Olympic record for single tournament|