US women's basketball dynasty rolls into Rio

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US womens basketball dynasty rolls into Rio
Members of the 2016 US Basketball Women's National Select team during a practice session in Los Angeles

California - There has never been an Olympic dynasty quite like the US women's basketball team


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Published: Tue 26 Jul 2016, 8:50 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Jul 2016, 10:52 PM

There has never been an Olympic dynasty quite like the US women's basketball team, which seeks a sixth consecutive gold medal in Rio to complete two decades of global domination.
The American women are on a 41-game win streak, having made five unbeaten runs in a row to gold since settling for bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Games where they dropped a semi-final to the former Soviet Union team.
Add in 1984 and 1988 gold medals and the US mark is 55-1 with seven of the past eight Olympic titles.
"It's just a special time in the history of USA Basketball, because of the level of talent that we have, with the opportunity to continue to make history with our legacy of winning gold medals," US forward Maya Moore said. "It's a lot of pressure, but it's an exciting challenge."
And that's not even counting the US women having won six of the past eight World Championships titles, going 63-2 but settling for third after semi-final losses in 1994 at Australia and 2006 in Brazil.
The US women already own the longest gold medal streak for any women's Olympic team sport, Canada's ice hockey and Russia's synchronized swimmers having four-gold streaks.
India's men's field hockey team won five Games gold medals in a row and the US men's basketball team won the first seven Olympic tournaments contested, but both of those streaks were put on hold by World War II.
US coach Geno Auriemma could feel the tension of the Olympic history and legacy in 2012 at London in his first Games semi-final when Australia led 47-43 at half-time.
"The fact we were down at half-time against Australia shows you just how tenuous this thing is," he said. "You have to play great every night and all it takes is one night where the other team plays better and you come home with something less than a gold medal."
Auriemma is trying to mellow out this year.
"The first time around I was so fixated on 'We have to win a gold medal,' that I probably didn't really experience as much as I could have throughout the rest of the tournament," he said.
"Those last two games, semifinal and final, will take care of themselves if we do everything else along the way. I'm going to try to be more conscious of that."
This year's US team of Women's NBA stars feature three-time gold medalists and captains Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, two-time Olympic winners Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, 2012 gold medalists Moore, Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry and Lindsay Whalen and debutantes Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and collegian Breanna Stewart.
The veteran leaders learned from those who came before, including record four-time Olympic champions Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards, whose five total medals are a Games basketball record.
"There's a history of being together," said Auriemma. "Without that continuity, it would be very, very difficult."
Bird, Taurasi and retiring Catchings can join the four-time gold club this year.
"That's pretty crazy," Bird said. "When you're younger, you're just kind of going through it. But now that I'm older I do realize just how fortunate I am to have had these opportunities."
As with the US men starting the NBA "Dream Team" for 1992 after a 1988 Olympic loss to the Soviet Union, the US women built their dynasty after not taking gold in 1992 at Barcelona.
"Some significant changes were made and that '96 team was the first team that had a chance to train together like the rest of the world does," Auriemma said.
"That '96 team readjusted the balance of power so that starting 20 years ago to today, there has never been a more dominant team in the Olympics at any sport moreso than the USA women's national team."
Having to wait for the WNBA to shut down its season for the Olympics, the US women now have only eight practices and four warm-up games together to build teamwork before they begin Olympic competition on August 6. And they have already been through two months of play with club teams.
"We're going to find a way, like we always do, of managing whatever it is players are dealing with," Auriemma said. "I'm sure that everybody has got something that's nagging but once they get with us and practices begin, all that has a habit of going away."

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