The United States women's basketball team has won six of the last seven gold medals in the Summer Olympics, has won eight world championships, is currently ranked first in the FIBA world rankings, has an average margin of victory by 29 points, has a team stocked full of WNBA All-Stars, and has a Hall-of-Fame coach in Geno Auriemma leading the way. Entering the 2012 Summer Olympics in London as the heavy favorites, can any team threaten the Americans' dominance?
While basketball worldwide on the men's side has started to close the gap with the United States team, the gap on the women's side has seemingly grown. The phrase, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer," rings true as the United States brings one of their most powerful lineups to the Olympics, featuring veterans Sue Bird and Swin Cash and newcomers Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore, while top challengers like Australia have lost depth. While the outlook is quite grim for the rest of the world, there are several teams who will be looking to elevate their game and take down the American squad. The following teams represent the greatest challenge to the United States team:
5. Czech Republic
Currently ranked 4th in the world, the Czech Republic hasn't been a traditionally strong team, but has slowly built their program to a respectable level as of late. They won the 2005 FIBA Euro Championship, and took the silver medal in 2010 at the FIBA World Championship. The Czech squad is led by 32-year-old veteran Hana Horáková, MVP of the 2010 FIBA World Championship tournament.
4. Great Britain
An up-and-coming squad, the British team will be playing in front of a hometown crowd and just came off of a loss to the American team, a game in which they were leading by 11 at one point. Though this is their first Olympic appearance and they are currently ranked 49th in the FIBA rankings, Great Britain will be looking to build off of their close loss and feed off of the energy of their fellow countrymen to pull a monumental upset.
France comes into their third Olympics as the 2009 European Championship gold medalist and 2011 bronze medalist. Currently ranked 8th in the FIBA world rankings, the French team features a tall lineup led by 6-foot-4-inch Sandrine Gruda, 2006 European player of the year and current WNBA player for the Connecticut Sun. France's best hope for an upset will come with their size and length disrupting the American offense and wearing down the American defense.
The Russian team has built a powerful team in the last decade, leading to two bronze medals in the Olympics (2004 and 2008), two silver medals in the FIBA World Championship (2002 and 2006), and gold medals in the FIBA European Championship (2003, 2007, and 2011). Russia took down the United States team in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship, giving the Americans one of their only blemishes in the last 10 years. The Russians will be looking to emulate their 2006 success this year in the Olympics. Russia is led by the 2011 FIBA European Championship MVP Elena Danilochkina.
Australia enters the Olympics currently tied for second with Russia in the FIBA world rankings. They represent the world's best chance at dethroning the American powerhouse. In the last three Olympics, the Australians have taken home silver medals, losing each time to the United States. Led by perennial WNBA All-Star and team captain Lauren Jackson, the Aussies are looking to finally get over the hump against the Americans. Australia will have to rely on their familiarity with the Americans and their big-game experience to finally pull off the upset.
Steve has been involved with basketball in many different facets, including as a player, scout, coach, and spectator, for over 20 years. He attributes his love of basketball to his grandpa, a leading member of the Michigan Wolverines' 1948 Big Nine championship team.