Four straight Olympic gold medals.
A 33-game winning streak in Olympic competition dating back to 1992.
A 72-1 record in major international competitions over the past 16 years.
For the U.S. Womens National Team, winning gold medals is not a goal to strive for, it is a standard that must be maintained. As the 2012 Olympic team came together this weekend in Washington, D.C. for a three-day training camp to continue its preparation for the Olympics in London, they understood what is at stake.
Every time you put on that USA jersey theres a certain expectation there, said veteran guard Sue Bird. Not just in the Olympics, but every time we take the court, no matter where we are. And the expectation is to win and most times to win big. Theres definitely some pressure there, but no more than we put on ourselves. We want to win that gold medal just as much as anybody.
After settling for the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics, the U.S. Women's National Team has won four straight Olympic gold medals, beginning with the celebrated 1996 team. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Bird, along with current National Team teammates Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker and Seimone Augustus, was part of the team that suffered the National Teams only defeat in the past 16 years a 75-68 loss to Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship.
Both of us were part of the team in Brazil in 2006 that came up short and we ended up with a bronze medal, Bird said while sitting alongside Taurasi. We know how that felt and it wasnt fun to be a part of the team that didnt win gold. So the pressure is really just what we put on ourselves, and with that we just want to win gold medals. And we dont want to be the team not to.
With the history of success and the wealth of talent the U.S. team boasts, winning is simply a foregone conclusion in the minds of many womens basketball fans. But when it comes to Olympic competition, playing against the top teams in the world, teams that have played together for years rather than weeks, it only takes one bad performance to tarnish a legacy.
Winning for USA Basketball is expected, said National Team head coach Geno Auriemma. We won four in a row. We might be the most dominant team of any team since the Russian Red Army team. Every time we play, everybody thinks were supposed to win and were supposed to win by a lot and thats a lot for these players to carry around and I know that. But at the same time, thats what you sign up for when you play USA Basketball. Its pressure; because there is no praise if you finish with the silver medal.
For Auriemma, the pressure to win doesnt begin in London. Hes focused on Mondays exhibition game against the Brazilian National Team.
If I say look it doesnt matter what happens Monday, were just trying to put our team together, and then Brazil beats us, everybody will say, man this Olympic team stinks, he said. So you cant say well it doesnt matter what happens Monday we have to win. We have to get used to winning right away.
Something the U.S. squad will face when they meet the Brazilians on Monday and will continue throughout the Olympics is a national team that has trained together for years in preparation for this tournament, compared to just a few weeks.
Theyre going to be well-oiled machines, said Maya Moore. But its basketball. What were doing is pass, cut, screen and make reads. Thats all what we can do, and its a fun way to play. We can use our creativity, kind of learn each other and play off of each other, come together and stay together on defense; it should be a good thing.
The Brazilian squad will feature current Atlanta Dream center Erika de Souza, who has missed the first half of the WNBA season in order to focus solely on her commitment to her national team, as well as former Dream guard Iziane Castro Marques. Australia, which has finished the last three Olympics as the runner up to the United States, features a trio of players -- Jenna O'Hea (Sparks), Lauren Jackson (Storm) and Liz Cambage (Shock) -- missing the early portion of the WNBA season to prepare for London.
Former college teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who won gold medals in 2004 and 2008, are aiming for their third straight Olympic gold medal in London. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
We dont have a choice, otherwise we wouldnt be able to play in the Olympics or we wouldnt be able play in the WNBA and none of us want that, said Candace Parker of the U.S. squad. So we just take advantage of the time that we have. We had a little training camp in May, weve had Coach Auriemmas system in place for four years so all of us pretty much know it, and so its just about getting out on the court and finding that offensive flow.
The ability for this group of superstars to set aside ego for the betterment of the team has been a key to their success. With the WNBA season beginning its Olympic hiatus on Friday, the players literally had a day to go from their WNBA teams and the roles they play on them to Team USA and their new set of responsibilities.
Its tough, said Parker of the quick transition. Catch and I were talking when we played two nights ago against each other and then now we come in and put on USA jerseys together. In a way its hard to go from opponents to teammates, youre kind of looking at that person competitively.
But Parker, Catchings and other players said there was no hesitation in putting aside their alpha-dog status that they must have on their WNBA team. They can all appreciate the help that they get by being surrounded by such an excellent collection of teammates.
This team is very special, said Parker. I think that we have the opportunity to do something great. Nobody is holding us back; everybody is in for the gold medal. We realize that when people look at things, they dont remember who scored what or who did what, its did you get the gold medal or not?
Over the past two days in nations capital, the U.S. women have built on the foundation that has been laid in previous competitions and the three-day training camp that took place in Seattle in May. Both players and coaches feel the team is coming together quickly and looks more like a team that has played together for months rather than just a matter of days.
I dont have five months with them like I do with my teams at UConn, said Auriemma. Thats always my biggest worry, because when I have five months with my team I can massage it and tinker with it and move things around and really play the whole thing out. But with these guys youve got two weeks and its the Olympics and thats it. Heres the most pressure packed play you can get, youve got eight games that youve got to win and theyre all like NCAA Tournament final games.
Bird, who along with Taurasi and Catchings has been a member of the past two gold medal-winning Olympic teams, understands how difficult it is to get through the pressure-packed Olympic tournament.
Eight games in 16 days, it can wear on you, she said. And knowing that we have to improve each game because come the quarters, semis and finals, its one game. And now were all in the WNBA and we play three and five game series, but here you dont get a chance to mess up.
Lisa Leslie won four straight gold medals in her time with USA Basketball, beginning with the 1996 team and finishing in 2008 alongside her WNBA teammate and current Olympian Candace Parker. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The last time the U.S. Womens National Team messed up was back in the 2006 World Championship against Russia. With five players on this years Olympic team having gone through the experience of losing on the world stage, theyll do whatever it takes not to do it again.
When we came back with the bronze from the world championship, it was like what is going on? said Catchings. That feeling. I was on that team and that feeling that you have, that is something that you dont ever want to experience. Its like you let down not only yourself, not only your team, but also your country.
The members of Team USA understand that this Olympics is bigger than the 12 of them that suit up in London. It is as if the history and tradition of the USA Basketball program has been weaved into the fabric of the very jerseys that they will wear on the court.
Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and all those guys set the standard years ago, said Augustus. Were trying to uphold it and keep the standards really high. But its a tough job every time we put on the red, white and blue. Its all about the legacy at the end of the day. Were thankful to be part of a successful legacy that the women before us have paved, but we understand that is tough to maintain it.
For the U.S. Womens National Team, they can never win silver. They can only lose gold. And they dont plan on letting that happen anytime soon.