This is how it happens: A dozen women, isolated outliers, are so committed to playing for their country that they will practically starve for the honor. The first American women’s basketball team in ’76, captained by Pat Head Summitt and featuring Ann Meyers Drysdale among others, had a budget of $500. They held training camp in an unairconditioned gym in Warrensburg, Mo., because it was the cheapest facility they could find, and they begged meals from the rotary club.
“We’d do anything for free food for the team,” Moore says.
The Americans lived up to their considerable hype and then some Tuesday night, routing Russia and everybody else on their way to their first Olympic title since 1996. Their score of 183.596 was a whopping five points ahead of Russia.
Washington Post reporters and photographer recall their favorite moments from the 2012 London Olympic Games, and what it was like to be in the arena watching the events.
Bill Wall, the executive director of USA basketball, stepped forward and put up his personal credit card to support their attempt to make it into the Montreal Games. When they won the qualifying tournament, they were such a surprise that nobody had made any accommodations for them.
They found an empty dormitory that was under construction at the University of Rochester, and bunked there for a few days amid the sound of hammering. Then they moved into a two-bedroom condo in Montreal someone had found them — 12 players and the coaching staff. Some of them slept on cots in the kitchen. “And no one complained,” Moore says.
“We were just happy to have beds,” Meyers-Drysdale remembers. “We had one pair of shoes: our own sneakers. Not like today where heaven forbid your game shoes should touch asphalt.”
They were one of the most unexpected success stories of Montreal, reaching the gold medal game. They were overmatched by the world champion Russians in the final — the 5-foot-11 Summitt had to go against 7-foot Russian center Uljana Semjonova — but they brought home their country’s first-ever Olympic medal in the sport, a silver.
“I remember very clearly saying to the players, trying to make them understand what a moment in time we had,” Moore says. “What an impact we could have. There would be a lot of Olympians that would follow, but there would only be one time when they were the first.”
This is how it happens: a steady drumbeat of success over so many years, wearing away at obstacles, pursuing a metal disc that says you have value because you won something, until eventually you look around and there are soccer players, shooters, gymnasts, weightlifters, boxers and judokas wearing them too, and it begins to look like the winner’s podium just might be genderless.