Legacy was on the line. On Sunday, the U.S. women’s basketball team won its seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal (ninth overall), extending its winning streak to 55 games. It marked an unprecedented fifth gold medal for Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who have played together since they were student-athletes at the University of Connecticut.
It is the third gold medal for Queens native Tina Charles, also a UConn alumna. When asked what was special about this victory, she answered being part of Bird and Taurasi’s historic accomplishment. “The fact that I was able to contribute to three of their five, just being under their leadership, their guidance, just a friendship that was developed over the years, that’s what made it special,” said Charles.
The team, loaded with WNBA talent, did not dominate throughout the Olympic tournament as it had in the past. Six of the players were first-time Olympians, and the team took a while to find its groove. Although the U.S. had a huge height advantage over Japan, its opponent in the gold medal game, Japan kept it close. The final score was 90–75.
“I think we saved our best performance for last,” said head coach Dawn Staley, who made history as the first Black female head coach to win gold in Olympic basketball and the first person to win gold as a player and coach. “So happy that we have two legends here on our team to will us into a gold medal game and to get the win,” added Staley, who played alongside Bird and Taurasi in 2004.
Bird said winning an Olympic gold medal is never easy, but the circumstances of the past year and the need for these Games to go without spectators, friends and family made this even more difficult. “I’m just so happy for everyone on our team and for everyone involved with USA Basketball,” said Bird.
Taurasi, who like Bird has battled injuries over the course of her career, said it has been a long journey. “[This team] didn’t really know who we were at the beginning, but on the last day when we needed to be a team and we needed to know who we really are, I think everyone kind of locked in and did the things that we needed to do to win a gold medal,” said Taurasi.
No one stepped up more in the final game than Brittney Griner, who was relentless in the post, scoring 30 points to earn her second gold medal. It was also a second gold medal for Breanna Stewart, who contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds. With the victory, Sylvia Fowles won her fourth gold medal, tying USA Basketball legends Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings and Teresa Edwards.