SAITAMA, Japan — Perfection. It is hard to achieve once in sports, much less across decades at the highest level of international competition.
But for Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics marked a perfect ending to an unblemished career with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team (6-0).
The dynamic backcourt duo made Olympic history by winning their fifth gold medal as the top-ranked Americans won their team-sport record-tying seventh straight gold with a 90-75 triumph over Japan (4-2) at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
“No, not in my wildest dreams,” Bird said of if she ever thought of winning five gold medals. “That’s what makes it even more special. I never thought it was a possibility.”
Added Taurasi: “We were just asked, ‘What did you think in 2004 when you won your first one?’ I thought that was our last one. Fast-forward 17 years and to be able to do this five times, I think it’s a testament to USA Basketball culture, the great players we played with, coaches and staff. There’s a lot of people to thank today.”
Brittney Griner is among those people. The 6-foot-8 post player scored 30 points — a record for an American in a gold-medal game — for the U.S., which exploited its size advantage time and again. The silver is the first medal Japan has won in five Olympic appearances.
“It means a lot to me,” Griner said of her second Olympic gold medal. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work and dedication to get here, to get us to seven. And just to be a part of that, I’m honored.”
In addition to winning gold for the ninth time in 11 Olympic trips, it was the 55th consecutive Olympic victory for the U.S., with 38 of those coming with Bird and Taurasi on the roster. Delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bird, 40, has said Tokyo was her last Olympics, while Taurasi, 39, has not made it official but has dealt with injuries in recent years, including her hip in the Olympics.
Bird and Taurasi broke a tie with four-time gold medalists Teresa Edwards (1984-2000, one bronze), Lisa Leslie (1996-2008) and Tamika Catchings (2004-16) and joined Edwards as the only five-time Olympic medalists in Olympic basketball history regardless of gender. Sylvia Fowles, 35, who became part of the Olympic team in the cycle after Bird and Taurasi, joined the exclusive four-gold club.
“Somewhat the same,” Fowles said of how she views her most recent piece of history, “but humbling at the same time, just to see yourself go through that switch of being the youngest and turn into a veteran and having the younger players under you come in and having to talk more and all those good things. I can say it definitely has been a whirlwind.”
The U.S. matched the record of seven straight golds in any Olympic team sport set by U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Teams, a streak that started with the debut of the sport in 1936 through 1968.
It also was the swan song for Carol Callan, director of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team program since its inception in 1995. She is stepping down to focus on her role as president of FIBA Americas.
Featured Image Caption: TOKYO, JAPAN – AUGUST 8: The USA Women’s National Team celebrates winning the gold medal Game during the Medal Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the Saitama Super Arena on August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Source: USA Basketball