Russia’s Maria Stepanova retires from international game

Influential Russian basketball figure Maria Stepanova has announced her retirement from the international game ahead of June’s Eurobasket Women event in France.

Stepanova was forced to miss out on representing Russia at last year’s Olympic Games in London due to an ACL injury but the veteran will have been pleased to end her illustrious international career with a gold medal at the 2011 Eurobasket Women’s tournament in Poland, an event where she was named in the All Tournament Team.

One of the most recognisable figures across the women’s basketball world, Stepanova competed at the elite level for her country for some 16 years, incorporating 15 major tournaments, resulting with a number of medals won.

You know, for me to just be in the team was a great joy,” she told Russian newspaper Sport Express. “Even in defeat, I did not perceive it as a tragedy, but as a kind of spice from which victory grew sweeter.

“For example, at Eurobasket Women during 2009 when we lost in the final and then winning the title two years later, brought a fountain of bright emotions.

“If we had just won all the tournaments – it would probably not have been quite so interesting.”

In her absence though, Stepanova said to the newspaper that she did not want another “Stepanova” in the national team, rather an original player who can make Russia proud.

She has not decided on whether to retire completely from the sport. Stepanova has one year left on her contract with Eurolegaue Women champions UMMC Ekaterinburg.

“Let’s see,” she says. “My contract runs for the next season and if I have enough strength and health, it’s hard to say. I will take a final decision in the summer.”