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Donovan’s Olympics Legacy
Continues On the Sidelines

The list of women who have represented the United States in the Olympic Games by playing basketball is short and distinguished. So far, just 64 names comprise that list, with seven more to be added later this week. The list of men and women who have coached the U.S. women is shorter yet. And the list of those who have done both currently consists of just one name, Pat Summitt.


Donovan will join Pat Summitt as one of only two women to play and coach for the U.S. in the Olympics.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
Under her maiden name, Pat Head, the college coaching legend played during the first Olympics for women’s basketball in 1976, averaging 5.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Four years later, Summitt, already at the University of Tennessee, was an assistant on the 1980 squad that did not take part in the Olympics because of the U.S. boycott. Four years after that, in 1984, Summitt was the head coach for the U.S. squad that claimed its first-ever gold medal in Los Angeles.

Summitt will have to make room, for she is about to be joined by Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan.

As far as women’s basketball and the United States are concerned, the name Donovan is practically synonymous with the Olympics. Only five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards has represented the U.S. as a player more than Donovan, who won golds in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and was also selected to the 1980 squad which stayed home. Now, after serving as an assistant coach for USA Basketball during both the 1998 and 2002 World Championships (with the U.S. claiming gold each time), Donovan will walk the sidelines during the Olympics for the first time as an assistant to U.S. Head Coach Van Chancellor.

"I think the fact that I've been there as a player and I know how hard it was for me to get there as a player and on those Olympic teams, and now to see that come back and have another opportunity as an adult as a coach … it blows my mind a little bit," Donovan says. "When I got there, in opening ceremonies … after '80, I didn't expect to be a part of another opening ceremony, so it's … special."

Naturally, Donovan was apprehensive in 1980, when her first opportunity to play in the Olympics was denied her by the boycott. Knowing they would not go any further, Donovan and her teammates (with the exception of Nancy Lieberman, who withdrew to show her support for the boycott) traveled to Bulgaria for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which would decide the five teams who would face the Soviet Union (already qualified as both the defending champions and the host) in Moscow. With Donovan averaging 5.2 points per game off the bench, the U.S. went 6-1, losing only by one point to South Korea, and won the tournament. In Moscow, however, it was Bulgaria and Yugoslavia – two countries the U.S. had beaten in Bulgaria – that medaled, with the Soviet Union taking the gold.

Donovan did not know if she’d ever have the opportunity to play in the Olympics again, though she was lucky to have youth on her side.

"Now that I'm older, I try to put myself back in that time period, and I remember being very thankful that we boycotted, just extremely thankful that I was young and I was going to have another opportunity if the cards played right," she notes. "But if I think about being Dawn (Staley)'s age (34), and having that as my first and only shot at it, I can't imagine how you overcome that."

By 1984, eight of the 12 players who made up the 1980 squad had come and gone. Only Denise Curry, Donovan, Cindy Noble and Lynette Woodard got a chance to go to the Olympics they’d missed out on four years earlier.

"You think about the amount of training that goes into a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Donovan notes, remembering the teammates who didn’t have the same second chance she did. "To have that taken away for political reasons is extremely devastating."

In 1984, with Donovan now 22 and her college career completed, she played a larger role. Her 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game helped lead the U.S. to a 6-0 record and the gold medal in Los Angeles, winning the six games by an average of 32.7 points per game.


Donovan and Sue Bird will team up to represent the U.S.
Jeff Reinking/NBAE/Getty
Still, Donovan’s USA Basketball experience – as a player – was not complete. The Soviet Union responded to the United States’ boycott by boycotting the 1984 Games, meaning Donovan had never competed against the Soviets, at the time undefeated in Olympic play. That chance would come in Seoul in 1988. At 26, Donovan was the oldest player on the U.S. squad and nearing the end of her playing career. While Donovan’s role was smaller than it had been four years earlier as she gave way to younger talents, it was possibly the highpoint of her career when the U.S. easily defeated the Soviet Union, 102-88, in the semifinals. A 77-70 victory over Yugoslavia gave the U.S. and Donovan their second straight gold medals, this time conclusive proof they were the best in the world.

"Premier (Olympic) memory, for sure, is on the medal stand after the '88 Olympics," Donovan recalls. "It was my last Olympics, and I knew it. I was co-captain of that team, I had gone from being a starter to being deep on the bench and then, in the gold-medal game, having an opportunity to make an impact on that game. Standing up on the platform - I had family there in Korea - and that was it, and I had finally accomplished it.

"I'm sorry to babble here, but in '84 they boycotted our Olympics. In '80, we boycotted, '84, they boycotted, so '88 was the first time in all those years that we actually had a real gold medal. So it was very emotional."

The end of Donovan’s playing career, which came after one more season in Italy, did not mean the end of her association with USA Basketball. While head coach at East Carolina University, Donovan chaired the USA Basketball Women's Select Team Committee during the 1996-2000 quadrennium, giving her responsibility for helping select team members for several U.S. squads.

During that period, Donovan joined USA Basketball in a coaching capacity for the first time, assisting former Purdue coach Nell Fortner in the 1997 as the U.S. qualified for the FIBA World Championships, and again in 1998 when the U.S. squad claimed gold in Germany. Donovan might have assisted Fortner again in Sydney in the 2000 Olympics had she not been subbing for her as the interim coach of the Indiana Fever.

By last fall, however, Donovan had conclusively proven herself, having subsequently led the Charlotte Sting to the 2001 WNBA Finals, won 18 games each of the last three WNBA seasons, and assisted Chancellor in 2002 in China. As a result, Chancellor called her November selection as one of his assistants for the 2004 Olympics a no-brainer.

"I’m really excited to have Anne on the Olympic staff," said Chancellor. "I was so pleased with her help in the World Championship. I thought this was a no-brainer to add her to the staff and I’m thankful the Committee did that. What she does is bring an understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish. She and I just hit it off right off the bat; we’re on the same page. And she’s also really good at working with post players since she played there, she’s just really good at that."

Beyond that, on a coaching staff that features no one else with Olympics coaching experience, Donovan is the ultimate Olympic veteran.

"Once you do it once, you can't get enough," Donovan once said, referring to the Olympics, and she is the best proof possible.