USA National Team Keeping Cool, Confident Under Pressure
USA Basketball Women’s National Team coach Geno Auriemma has not heard one word about it since the opening of training camp. He has not seen or felt any tightness in the players. Not from this lively bunch that looks to keep the atmosphere light.
For a team that boasts nine players that have won at least one Olympic gold medal, the pressure to win a record sixth straight gold medal in Rio in the coming weeks is a non-factor. Not even first-year players Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner or Breanna Stewart are feeling overly uneasy about what it is at stake for the world’s No. 1 team.
“I really like something Geno said. He said pressure comes from being asked to do something you can’t do,” Delle Donne said. “And we’re not being asked to do something we can’t do. We have the talent. We have the players. We’ve got the chemistry to do it. So we’ve just got to get out there and, obviously, it’s going to be a growing experience the entire month but peak at the right time and work together.”
The U.S. has won 41 straight games in Olympic competition over the last 24 years. Beginning with a win over Cuba in the bronze medal game in Spain in 1992 it has finished 8-0 and captured the gold medal at the 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
No other traditional women’s team has won five consecutive gold medals. Only the U.S. men’s basketball team (seven, 1936-1968) and the India men’s field hockey team (six, 1928-1956) have established longer streaks of greatness.
“I wouldn’t say I feel pressure,” Griner said. “More so I just don’t want to let down my country. I don’t want to let down all the great players that have set the standard for USA Basketball. So I look at it more like that. That way it doesn’t rattle me. Pressure rattles people. I don’t want to feel pressure so I look at it like I don’t want to let somebody down. So that makes me want to do better. It keeps me focused.”
The U.S. will be seeking its eighth Olympic gold medal overall, also winning in 1984 and 1988. In fact, 1976 in Montreal (silver) and 1992 are the only Games in which the U.S. competed that it did not win gold. It did not participate in Moscow in 1980.
With such a rich tradition, Auriemma believes that the U.S has to win the gold medal at this point.
“Every USA team does,” Auriemma said. “There’s never a USA team that goes into competition where they say, ‘Well, we’re not expected to win the gold.’ Absolutely. Every USA Basketball team that puts on that jersey and they go overseas or in the United States or wherever, they’re expected to win the gold medal. That’s the only reason why they’re on the team because they understand that.”
Sue Bird (2004, 2008, 2012), Tamika Catchings (2004, 2008, 2012) and Diana Taurasi (2004, 2008, 2012) are targeting their fourth Olympic gold medal. Teresa Edwards (1984, 1988, 1996, 2000) and Lisa Leslie (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008) are the only players in history currently with four. Leslie is also the lone player to win four straight gold medals.
Seimone Augustus (2008, 2012) and Sylvia Fowles (2008, 2012) are chasing their third.
“Obviously, we’ve got to be vigilant and do our work,” Auriemma said. “And we’ve got to be aware that the other teams that we’re going to play against are very, very good and we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for them. And we know that France beat us in France in 2014 before we went to the (FIBA) World Championship. So it’s there. We know. We know how good the competition is. We have a lot of respect for them. But, at the same time, we have a group that’s very confident in our own abilities.”
The history of the program is inescapable. Yet, players such as Bird, Catchings and Taurasi choose to live in the present.
Each Olympic appearance is its own entity for the USA National Team. This keeps the experience fresh, the hunger alive. Rio will be no different. Pressure will not be an overriding issue.
“Every team that I’ve been on (pressure) has been in the conversation,” Bird said. “Obviously, the streak has continued to grow. So the longer any streak goes the more people talk about it. But every year the goal is to win a gold medal. That’s no different this year. And each team has been a different team. The make-up’s been different of each team and the way that each team has played has been different. So now we’re just trying to figure it out for this particular team.”