ISTANBUL — Diana Taurasi and the U.S. women’s basketball team feel a little overlooked.
They’ve been on one of the most dominant runs in Olympic history, winning four straight gold medals — the most in a traditional women’s team sport — and 33 consecutive games. They are favored to win their fifth consecutive gold at the London Games.
Yet they feel unappreciated instead of celebrated.
“I think it’s funny,” Taurasi said. “We’re a team that’s won four gold medals in a row and yet we’re still fighting for respect in our own country. I think it’s a little sad. That’s a heck of a motivator for all of us in the gym. Our level is so high, it becomes normal and even to the public `it’s they should win the gold medal. If they don’t it’s a terrible year.”’
Taurasi joked that they should get shirts made up with “road to respect” as the slogan modifying the 2008 men’s teams “road to redemption” motto.
One of coach Geno Auriemma’s goals in London is to get the women’s team the attention they feel they deserve.
“If we win another gold medal it’s not going to be a huge story,” he said. “I want to make it a huge story because the respect that Dee’s talking about that these kids deserve for having done what they’ve done and been able to do it the way they do it should be appreciated. Greatness should be appreciated and not taken for granted.
“People take us for granted.”
Their opponents don’t.
Only one team has come within single digits of the U.S. since the unprecedented run started in 1996. They’ve won by an average of 29 points a game. The Americans have only lost once in major international competitions since 1996 with the lone blemish coming against Russia in the semifinals of the 2006 world championship.
“We’re doing something that no one has ever done,” said Sue Bird, who will be playing in her third straight Olympics. “You don’t hear much about it and people take it for granted that we’re going to win, assume it’s going to happen. To go for a fifth gold medal in a row, that’s unbelievable.”
Despite the Olympic team not getting the respect that the players feel they’ve earned, women’s basketball has made great strides in the U.S. since 1996. The WNBA began a year later and is celebrating its 16th season. Three of the teams in the league have turned profits and attendance is up for the fifth straight season.
While there is definitely still room for improvement, the fact that the WNBA is still around is a positive sign — two women’s pro soccer leagues have folded despite Olympic success by U.S. teams.
American women’s softball teams had a resume almost as impressive as the basketball squad, winning three of four gold medals before seeing their sport removed from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games.
Even with the U.S. dominance in basketball there is no fear of the sport being eliminated. FIBA — the international governing body — is trying to add 3-on-3 eventually to the Olympics. Officials say it would give more countries the opportunity to compete in the global sport since only four players would be needed for a roster.