Commentary

U.S. women chase fourth consecutive gold medal

Updated: August 8, 2008, 1:02 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Sylvia FowlesWilliam West/AFP/Getty ImagesSylvia Fowles, a first-time Olympian, and Team USA will play five preliminary round games.

BEIJING -- The good news for the U.S. women's hoops team starts with this: Tamika Catchings is feeling OK. Since her Achilles' tendon tear occurred less than a year ago, that's very important.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," Catchings said of the past few months as she worked hard at rehab while feeling the clock ticking on her readiness for the Olympics. "You go through an injury and the emotions with it -- from thinking for sure you'll have a chance to compete for your country to 'I don't even know if I'm going to play this year.'"

USA women's hoops schedule

Team USA is 1-0 in Beijing.

Game schedule
Date Opponent Time (ET)
Aug. 9 USA 97,
Czech Republic 57
Recap
Aug. 11 vs. China 8 a.m. ET
Aug. 13 vs. Mali 10:15 a.m. ET
Aug. 15 vs. Spain 8 a.m. ET
Aug. 17 vs. New Zealand 10:15 a.m. ET
Aug. 19 Quarterfinals TBD
Aug. 21 Semifinals TBD
Aug. 23 Gold medal game 10 a.m. ET

Catchings suffered the injury last September during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals (she also had the surgery in September).

"It's been a trying road," Catchings said, "but the support I've gotten from my family, my teammates and USA Basketball has been very big. That helped me get through it."

WNBA (and Olympic) rookies Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles are ready to make an impact. Diana Taurasi is thinking back to the World Championship bronze in Brazil (in 2006) and not liking it one bit. Same for former UConn teammate Sue Bird, who said she has felt the pressure -- but in a positive way -- this year to really elevate her game both for the Seattle Storm and Team USA.

And … Lisa Leslie got her omelet just the way she liked it. With spinach.

Here in Beijing there is one news conference after another, and we're all still trying to figure out exactly what time it is back home. Team USA, going for its fourth gold medal in a row, met with the media Thursday … and I have to say nothing looks quite as good in an unfamiliar place as a group of athletes and coaches that you are so familiar with.

The Americans will get under way here Saturday night -- Saturday morning back in the United States -- against the Czech Republic. And on Thursday, they all kept reiterating how much this tournament means and how much they respect everybody else who's playing in it.

The best one-liner, not surprisingly, came from Taurasi when asked whether the Americans' choice of runner Lopez Lomong -- who is originally from Sudan -- to be flag bearer for the opening ceremonies might be seen as "controversial" by host nation China.

(If that seems like an odd question to ask at a basketball news conference … well, yeah, it was. But you never really know what's going to come up at the Olympics.)

Anyway, Taurasi kind of shook her head and sighed, then sounded a lot like a certain coach she used to play for in Storrs, Conn.

"What isn't controversial these days?" she said.

But the best stories came from Leslie, who is going for her fourth Olympic gold. Leslie has her 1-year-old daughter, Lauren, with her and is taking all kinds of pictures so Lauren can "remember" this trip when she grows up. Leslie brought along her other three gold medals and said what she wants most is to have a picture of Lauren and four golds.

The other countries, including reigning world champion Australia, hope Leslie doesn't get that particular Kodak moment. And Leslie knows this is going to be a tough tournament for Team USA.

[+] EnlargeLisa Leslie
AP Photo/Elizabeth DalzielLisa Leslie and Team USA open the Olympics on Saturday against the Czech Republic.

But at least it has started very nicely for Leslie -- and Lauren. Like all the athletes in every sport so far, at least all that I've heard, Leslie raved about the Olympic village and the way she and her teammates have been treated.

"When we arrived, they put my baby's crib in the room, they put her teddy bear in her crib and these little house slippers outside of it," she said. "They put fruit in the room and water. That's going above and beyond. And as a mom, I'm totally appreciative of that. Because that's where we have to be for the next few weeks."

Leslie also said that the polite greetings they get every day from the Chinese "reinforces our own manners." (Just so you know, she didn't go totally overboard and say she's now decided to invite all the Detroit Shock players and coaches to her home for Thanksgiving.)

Leslie then gave an unexpected shout-out to the Sooner state, saying she had been all over the world and "the nicest people I've ever met have been in Oklahoma … and in China." (Um, as a Midwesterner, I always say the nicest people in the United States are in Iowa … but hey, maybe Leslie hasn't been there yet. That said, I'm sure Oklahoma's Sherri Coale and Oklahoma State's Kurt Budke can jump all over this to use in recruiting. They might leave out the China part, though.)

And then Leslie told about the omelet.

"A guy made my eggs this morning, and I felt bad … I asked for spinach, and he couldn't figure out what that was," she said. "And I said, 'That's OK.' So I went to go eat something else. Two or three minutes later, he brings over an omelet with spinach in it.

"I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, thank you so much.' He figured out what spinach was and went to the back -- [because] spinach wasn't out there. I didn't think about it. Maybe that was me being a spoiled American.

"In the States, it would have been, 'We don't have spinach! Do you see spinach? No!'"

Well, except maybe in Oklahoma. Or Iowa. But anyway, the point is that Leslie is feeling right at home. So that is also very good news for Team USA.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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