August 8, 2021
Team USA wins seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal
Bird and Taurasi each win record-breaking fifth gold medals
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Through all of the uncertainty in the world this past year, in the end, there was one remaining constant.
The U.S. women’s basketball team stood atop the Olympic podium for the seventh consecutive time — a streak stretching back a quarter century — following a fierce effort from silver medalist Japan on Sunday.
The U.S. won the gold medal game, 90-75, over a Japanese team that has improved in waves over the past half decade. Center Brittney Griner set a record with 30 points in a championship game, and the U.S. held sharp-shooting Japan to 8-of-31 from long range in its 55th consecutive Olympic victory. Breanna Stewart was named MVP of the tournament after averaging a double=double and was joined on the All-Olympic team with teammate A’ja Wilson, French forward Sandrine Gruda, breakout Japanese point guard Rui Machida, and Belgium’s Emma Meesseman, who led the event with nearly 27 points per game.
“I thought we saved our best performance for our last performance,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “We did a good job on both sides of the basketball. Japan pushed us and made us focus in a little bit harder.”
When the Olympics were postponed, the first thing that came to many people’s minds, was if that meant the conclusion in the storied international careers of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Elegantly, the two guards who grew up in front of our eyes suited up at ages 40 and 39 and rocketed into the unchartered territory of five consecutive gold medals in basketball.
“I couldn’t be more happy,” Bird said. “It’s always really difficult to win the gold medal, this year was even harder, given all of the challenges everyone faced. For our team to deal with the same adversity everyone else is dealing with to where we are now, with the gold medal around our necks is really special.”
When Bird and Taurasi won a national title together at UConn in 2002, few could have predicted they would transcend into global icons, synonymous with their sport. From Athens to Beijing to London to Rio and now Tokyo, they were the faces and voices of women’s basketball.
“It’s been a tremendous journey,” Taurasi said. “There is always something special about putting a team together and letting it grow, and I think this team personified that in a lot of ways. We didn’t really know who we were at the beginning, but on the last day, when we needed to be a team and know we we are, I think everyone locked in and did the things necessary to win the gold medal.”
Bird and Taurasi each mentioned their relationships with members of the Japanese basketball family. In Phoenix, Taurasi played for Japan coach Tom Hovasse and with retired guard Yuko Oga, while in Seattle, Bird suited up with Ramu Tokashiki, arguably Japan’s best player, who was injured and missed the Olympics.
“This team can play, you can’t not cheer for this team,” Taurasi said of Japan. “They play hard, they play together. They play a style of basketball that makes you want to watch, and they made basketball fun again. We were lucky there weren’t 30,000 Japanese people in that building that would have been a different experience.”
In addition, center Sylvia Fowles won her fourth gold medal and forward Tina Charles her third. It will likely be Charles who carries the torch to Paris.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.