Four Olympic gold medals is a feat that only two basketball players, male or female, have ever accomplished. Diana Taurasi, along with teammates Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings, will lengthen that list with a gold medal in next month’s Summer Olympics.
“Being selected to the Olympics again means a lot to me. I take a lot of pride in doing this,” Taurasi said. “This is what it’s all about.”
Taurasi, the 2004 No. 1 overall pick of the Phoenix Mercury, looks to join hall-of-famers Teresa Edwards and Lisa Leslie on the short list of basketball players ever to have earned four Olympic gold medals.
The Olympic journey for Taurasi and the rest of the 2016 U.S. women’s Olympic team began in Los Angeles, July 23-25, as the team held its first practices and defeated the U.S. women’s select team in an exhibition game, 88-84.
A seasoned Olympic veteran, Taurasi will be looking to savor the moments from her fourth, and potentially final, games.
“As far as this being my fourth Olympics, I’m going to treat it like my first, I really am,” Taurasi said. “I’m going to get there and enjoy it. I’m going to enjoy the whole experience. When you have that memory of you think you know what’s going to happen, you kind of don’t get excited.”
When it comes to Taurasi’s most memorable Olympic experience, she is all about being a part of something much bigger than her.
“My favorite memory of my Olympics’ is when you’re coming down that tunnel with all the American athletes,” Taurasi said. “You can’t wait to get back in that tunnel. That’s an amazing feeling to represent your country when you walk out there.”
Bird, a member of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, thinks of Taurasi as much more than a just a teammate.
“D (Diana) is one of my closest friends on and off the court,” Bird said. “We have won numerous championships, titles and gold medals together, but we have also lost. We have been through deaths in the family and other things off the court. She’s just a great person.”
Bird, like Taurasi, is not allowing herself to think about the elite company she will be in with a fourth Olympic gold medal.
“We don’t think about the previous years,” Bird said. “It’s all about this team and getting this gold medal. What happened in the past really doesn’t matter right now.”
Catchings joins Taurasi and Bird as the captains and leaders of this year’s Olympic team and said the bond between the three of them is built on respect.
“Mutual respect is the biggest thing between the three of us,” Catchings said. “I never doubt that Sue and D are going to be ready and they know I’ll always be ready. It’s our job as the leaders of this team to make sure everyone is prepared so we can go out there and be the best team possible.”
Catchings, a member of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, has a win or bust mentality when it comes to competing on the Olympic stage.
“Going back to my first time, Dawn (Staley) said, ‘we don’t leave here without the gold,’” Catchings said. “And that’s kind of been my mindset from the first time I came to the fourth time. I’m super excited about the opportunity to represent my country one last time and to be out here with some amazing players young and old. I like being able to pass the torch on to the next generation.”
Geno Auriemma, head coach of the women’s national team and Taurasi’s coach during her years at the University of Connecticut, views Taurasi as a once in a lifetime type of player.
“I have never seen anyone dominate a game like Diana,” Auriemma said. “Even without scoring a goal, she’s able to be dominant out there. I have never seen a player like Diana and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world.”
Though it’s early in the quest for Olympic gold, Taurasi said that despite a close practice game with the U.S. women’s select team and only two practices, she has the utmost confidence in this year’s team.
“Today, at times, when things weren’t going well, that could have easily been a game … that could have went south real quick,” Taurasi said. “But we found a way to pull it together. I think that’s the one characteristic that our team has on day three that most teams don’t even get on year three.”
Adding to Taurasi’s confidence are the 11 teammates who will join her at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“I looked around today in the locker room and you feel good,” Taurasi said. “Because you have a lot of good people in that locker room. You know everyone is moving toward the same goal. When you have that sort of synergy, you feel good going on the court.”
Taurasi, who has never tasted defeat in her Olympic career, will look to extend the current 24-year Olympic undefeated streak of U.S. women’s basketball when she and her teammates open Olympic play against Senegal on Aug. 7.
By Ryan Wright, Cronkite News