By Mary Milliken
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Three American women made history on Saturday by tying the Olympic record for the most golds in basketball at four. Chances are they won’t be back for the record-breaking fifth.
Tamika Catchings, 37, said it was her last game with the national team. Captain Sue Bird, 35, said she’s not retiring from basketball so it’s “weird” for her to talk about the future. “Ask me in year or so,” she said after leading the Americans to their sixth consecutive gold.
Diana Taurasi, 34 and the top scorer in Team USA’s 101-72 defeat of Spain, is leaving the door open to Tokyo 2020.
Whatever they decide, Coach Geno Auriemma is already contemplating a passing of the torch.
“It’s a very emotional time when you’re around these players – Sue, Diana and Tamika – and you know this may be their last,” said Auriemma.
“And at the same time,” he added, “you have three young players that have never been here before and they get to go home with a gold medal.”
Elena Delle Donne was one of those first-time Olympians and she was already thinking about life without the three elder stateswomen.
“I am a little bit sad that this journey is over with these incredible people,” said the 26-year-old Delle Donne, most valuable player of the WNBA league in 2015.
Forward Angel McCoughtry, 29, said her second gold with the team was different because she “got to play with Diana and Sue and Tamika Catchings one last time.”
“I think this is it for them and this is special because I may not see them again. Four times, that is amazing. So I am glad I got to spend the fourth with them.”
Auriemma was especially full of praise for Taurasi, a guard that he began coaching at 17 and who he said had a “storybook tournament.”
“I have been very fortunate to have coached some of the most iconic players in the game, so the biggest challenge is next year,” Auriemma said.
“We don’t have that next year on our team, or the year after that, I don’t see anybody coming along that is at that level,” he added.
Catchings, a forward, said she had imagined herself being an Olympian when she was younger, but she never imagined doing it four times and winning.
“This part of my life is over,” Catchings said.
“I feel God has blessed me with so many things and this is only part of my life, but whatever I do next is going to be bigger than this.”
(Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Bill Rigby)