Olympic Women’s Basketball Tournament preview: A competition for runner-up?

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LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 9: USA v Australia during their Basketball Game on Day 13 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the North Greenwich Arena on August 9, 2012 in London, England. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

A negative headline to begin the preview for the Olympic women’s basketball tournament in Rio but ever since the Atlanta Games in 1996, the United States have dominated proceedings and have showed no signs of slowing down.

While the Dream Team were mesmerising spectators and even their opponents in Barcelona in 1992, the women were stunned in the semi-finals to an Olympic Unified Team made up of players from the dissolved Soviet Union, eventually having to settle for bronze after beating Cuba.

The bronze medal showing seemed to spur the American ladies on and ever since, they have dominated all that have come before them, winning their last five Olympic gold medal games by an average of 24 points with Australia being their nearest challengers, capturing three of the last five silver medals on offer.

But despite the USA’s dominance, Brazil has not been the happiest of hunting grounds as like their male counterparts, they failed to win the gold at the 2006 FIBA women’s world championships.

Sao Paulo was the scene for the Americans’ last competitive defeat, a 75-68 loss to Russia in the semi-finals leaving the Opals free to win the title before the U.S. reclaimed the crown in Prague, four years later.

And this year’s squad, which was announced in late April, includes nine returnees from the London Games, and Olympic debutants Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, and University of Connecticut star, Breanna Stewart.

WHO ARE THE NEAREST CHALLENGERS?

Like previous Olympics, Australia will be medal contenders in Rio. Arguably the Opals’ greatest basketball products in Lauren Jackson has retired but they still have a talented roster that boasts Elizabeth Cambage who people might remember becoming the first female basketball player in Olympic history to do this.

The Aussies have three-point specialist Erin Phillips and veteran Penny Taylor who has been devastating in the Olympic-warm-ups. Taylor was particularly impressive in their 76-67 success over France.

After advancing comfortably from the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers, 2014 world championship runners-up Spain boast an exciting roster led by Alba Torrens and Sancho Lyttle. And they head to the Rio Games seeking a first Olympic medal in five attempts.

The last time the two sides met in competitive competition was the final of the FIBA Women’s World Championship in 2014. The much bigger and more skilful USA got the job done, clamping down on Torrens, who shot just 28 percent from the field thanks to persistent American defending.

Another team that pushed the USA at the world championships was Serbia, who will be making their first appearance at the Olympics thanks to capturing gold at last year’s Eurobasket Women. Despite losing eventually 94-74, the Serbs overpowered the Americans for the first ten minutes and for periods of the third quarter before the U.S., led by Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi guided the eventual winners to victory.

And, barring a nation that play beyond their A-game in Brazil, who are to stop the USA from making it six straight golds?