GB Women gear up for first Olympic Games
By Dave Ryan
Great Britain women will make history on Saturday evening when they step on court at the Olympic Basketball Arena to face Australia.
Women's basketball was only added to the Olympics in 1976, and GB never came close to gaining a place in the competition until being invited in as hosts, but since the current programme started in 2006, Britain have come a long way, first under coach Mark Clark who led them to promotion in 2007 and then under Tom Maher who coached them to the second stage of the EuroBasket finals last summer.
Captain Jo Leedham recognises the giant strides made by her team: "We've come really far, collectively and as individuals, she said. "Four years ago we were not useless, but not far from it. We didn't really grasp the concept and were getting by on hard work. It's unbelievable what we've done for the women's game in this country."
Leedham clearly cannot wait to step on the court at Stratford: "Obviously being in the Olympics is very special but for me, putting on a GB vest is something that I always take pride in.
"Because it's an Olympics it just makes it a little bit more special being in our own backyard and obviously it's a very special moment for me that I'm going to cherish forever."
GB start with arguably their toughest game in the group stage, which will see them play five games and aim for a top four finish to reach the quarter-finals. The Australians qualified for the tournament with a three game sweep against New Zealand, though they did have the benefit of all the games being at home. The size of the challenge facing GB can't be underestimated with the Opals having taken silver at the last three Olympic Games and bronze in 1996. They also won the 2006 World Championship having taken bronze in the previous two competitions.
The two sides have already met at Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield when the Opals ran out 87-63 winners, but GB guard Natalie Stafford believes that they can learn from the experience: "It was good to have the opportunity to play against them and see that they're not that much better than us and we can compete. We lost by 24 points, but we can take some positives from the game," she said.
"We started really well in that game and stuck with them for a whole half which is amazing as they're the second ranked team in the world. They've got a really big line-up we lost our way in the second half when they hit us with some zone."
Elizabeth Cambage proved to be the difference between the two sides, finishing with a 29 point, 11 rebound double-double, but Stafford believes that her side can do a better job on the London-born centre when the teams meet on Saturday:
"We have some tactics for Cambage, I'm not going to say what they are, but we can limit her." she said.