Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shock's Smith savors U.S. gold in basketball

Joanne C. Gerstner

August 23, 2008

BEIJING -- The first time Katie Smith won an Olympic gold medal, everything was a blur.

The second time Smith won a gold medal, she was injured and worried about her career.

But Saturday, the third time Smith won a gold medal, everything was perfect.

She was healthy, happy and intent on absorbing every moment of this special night in Beijing. The U.S. women's basketball team trounced Australia, 92-65, in a game that was never in doubt.

Smith didn't score and only had two assists while playing 16:53, but that was of no consequence.

She was part of a team, the best she says she's ever played for, that accomplished its mission.

"Oh man, what can I say? This was perfect in every way," an excited Smith, also a member of the Detroit Shock, said. "Just to come in to a game like this, and just be so locked in, so dominant from the get-go. You dream of something like that. We've been locked in this whole tournament.

"We had something to prove. We had a legacy to uphold. I can't think of a better way to do it. This is another dream come true. I've had three dreams come true."

This was the fourth consecutive Olympic gold for the U.S. women.

Three straight have come on Smith's watch.

She was one of Team USA's young hotshots in the 2000 Sydney Games, an offensive star shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range.

It all came easily then, as the U.S. routed Australia in their first Olympics final clash.

Standing atop the medal stand, having the gold put around her neck, even receiving the ceremonial bouquet of flowers, happened so quickly.

In 2004, Smith's games were cut shot after she suffered an ACL injury to her right knee during pool play against China.

Smith missed playing in the medal rounds in Athens, knew surgery awaited, and also that her career was in jeopardy.

Team USA went on to beat the Aussies in the final without her, so her trip to the 2004 medal podium was bittersweet.

So, Smith decided she wanted to keep playing for the national team, sticking around another four years for the Beijing Games.

That's a larger commitment than just showing up for a training camp.

Smith has been playing for the U.S. team in world championships and international tournaments, and attending camps for the past three years.

She's one of the few on this current Olympics roster who has perfect attendance.

"Katie gets a lot of the credit for the cohesion on this team, because she's helped set the tone with her presence," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "Whenever we've needed her, she's said yes. It's never been maybe.

"It's always been, 'When do you need me there?'"

Saturday's game was a perfect synopsis of Smith's on the team.

She didn't have to be a huge scorer. Instead, she was the steady, veteran guard. She got the ball to teammates when they were in position to make plays, and she played tough, focused defense.

Smith's reward was another gold medal.

When it was over and the medals distributed, she was one of the last Americans to leave the floor.

She took photos with her parents, John and Barb, and signed autographs for enthusiastic American and Chinese fans.

She wanted her waning Olympic moments to last.

"I've had a great run," said Smith, 34. "You really can't ask for more than this. Everything's been special: the times laughing with my teammates, the film sessions, the practices, the games, everything.

"It's been awesome in a way I can't even describe."

Golden enemies

Here are the results of the last three Olympic women's basketball finals:

2000 Sydney Games: U.S. 76, Australia 54
2004 Athens Games: U.S. 74, Australia 63
2008 Beijing Games: U.S. 92, Australia 65

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