Lynx forward Natalie Achonwa has eyes on a medal for Team Canada

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Early in the second quarter of the Minnesota Lynx's victory over Los Angeles at Target Center on June 12, right in front of the Lynx bench, Natalie Achonwa collided with an opponent and felt a pop in her right knee.

Summer of 2021 suddenly looked a lot different.

Achonwa was eight games into her first season with her second team, but was that season over?

Perhaps as important was the idea that she wouldn't be able to play for her native Canada in the Tokyo Olympics.

"There was a lot of emotion,'' Achonwa said. "The next day we got the MRI. Thankfully it was just the MCL.''

Her anterior cruciate ligament was intact. Achonwa had sprained her right medial collateral ligament. And while it meant weeks of rehab, it also meant her summer wasn't over.

After putting in those weeks of work, after following a rehabilitation schedule devised together by Lynx head athletic trainer Chuck Barta and the Team Canada medical team, Achonwa — along with Lynx teammate Bridget Carleton — is expected to play for Canada when Olympic basketball competition begins next week.

Four Lynx players will be taking part. Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier for heavily-favored Team USA, Achonwa and Carleton for Canada.

Despite struggling at times during pre-Olympic exhibition games, Team USA is expected to win the team's seventh straight gold medal, a streak dating back to 1996 in Atlanta.

Team Canada is coming froma different place, looking for it's first Olympic medal.

"I can't speak for being on the USA team,'' Achonwa said. "But with Canada, we're at a point where we have expectations now, expectations that we should be on the podium. Anything else would be a failure.''

The 6-4 Achonwa, 28, was averaging 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds for the Lynx when she was injured. A star high school athlete in Hamilton, Ontario, Achonwa went to Notre Dame, becoming that program's first international player. At age 16 she became the youngest-ever member of the Canadian national team.

She was on the 2012 Olympic team that lost to Team USA in the quarterfinals, and on the 2016 team that lost to France, also in the quarterfinals.

Now it's time to break through, which is why Achonwa worked so hard to get her knee ready. "Whenever I think of the Olympics I feel the excitement of putting a Canada jersey back on,'' she said. "I feel a competitive fire. It's a challenge for us. We know we're not the USA, where you walk in and walk right onto the podium. It's a grind.''

Team Canada includes three WNBA players in Achonwa, Carleton and Kia Nurse, who plays for Phoenix. It is Nurse's second Olympics.

Achonwa's expectations are justified. Canada has emerged from pool play in two straight Olympic Games. They enter these Olympics ranked fourth in the world by FIBA.

"In 2012 we were just happy to be there,'' Achonwa said. "Now we have the experience to go with it.''

After the Olympics, Achonwa will return to the Lynx, a team that went 12-3 after an 0-4 start and entered the Olympic break on a seven-game winning streak.

"The Lynx is a top-tier franchise,'' said Achonwa, who played her first six seasons in Indiana. "And that's across the board. From the coaching staff to how we do everything, even off the court. It sounds like the simplest thing, to only have to worry about playing basketball. But it's such a bonus.''