Aug. 21, 2004
ATHENS, Greece -
As the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad reach their midpoint this weekend in Athens, Greece, former Notre Dame All-America center Ruth Riley takes time to talk with www.und.com about her experiences with the U.S. women's basketball team.
Currently, Team USA is 4-0 following a hard-fought 71-58 win over Spain on Friday. The victory assured the Americans of the top spot in Group B and a place in the medal round, which begins on Wednesday, Aug. 25. The U.S. will play one final preliminary-round game tomorrow (Sunday) when it faces China at 8 p.m. Athens time (Noon in South Bend) in a contest that will be shown live on CNBC.
Riley, the 2001 consensus National Player of the Year who helped guide Notre Dame to the national championship that season, has appeared in all four games for Team USA thus far, averaging 3.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game with a team-high .667 field goal percentage. Her personal bests at these Games were seven points against South Korea and six rebounds vs. New Zealand.
Being that this is Riley's first trip to the Olympic Games, she has had some memorable experiences and opportunities, some of which she shared with www.und.com:
Q: What were your thoughts during the opening ceremonies at the Olympics?
Riley: The opening ceremonies was an amazing event. Every country is in different attire, typical for their culture. We were so proud of Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympian and our teammate, who led the way as she carried the flag for the United States.
Q: Since this is your first Olympic competition, how much guidance have you received from veterans such as Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith and Tina Thompson? How important has that been to you during these Games?
Riley: Although my playing time has been limited, I have learned a lot from the veteran players ahead of me.Not only is it an honor to be here an represent my country, but it has also been a great opportunity to learn and get better as a player. Every day in practice, I am going up against Lisa, Tina or Yolanda -- it's great to have such tough competition on a daily basis.
Q: Much has been made of the early struggles by the U.S. men's basketball team at the Olympics. In fact, your teammate, Lisa Leslie, had some strong comments about that team following your game with the Czech Republic on Monday. How do you feel about the American men's team and their chances to bring home the gold medal?
Riley: I am extremely supportive of all the athletes from the United States, especially those of the men's team (simply because we play the same sport).Our schedule is set in a way that we play every other day, and the men play every other day.There has been a lot of talk about how our men's and women's teams are favored to win the gold. This is great, because they respect the talent and experience on our teams, but at the same time a game/match/race isn't won by a ranking. The most talented team doesn't always win, the fastest runner doesn't always come in first, and the number one ranked player doesn't win every match. Puerto Rico came in and played with everything they had, and on this night, they appeared to be the better team. Every night is a battle, because the stakes are high and the room for error is slim.
Q: Have you had the chance to see many other Olympic events besides basketball? If so, which ones and what were your impressions?
Riley: I would love to get to as many other events as possible, but unfortunately, there just isn't enough time. So far, I have made it to all the men's basketball games, swimming and volleyball.
Q: What has been the most enjoyable part of the Olympics for you so far?
Riley: There really isn't one specific part of the Olympics that is more enjoyable that the rest so far. Everything has been amazing, from the opening ceremonies, to the first game where I played in our USA basketball jersey, to meeting all the other athletes.
Q: Describe life in the Olympic Village. Have you been able to sit down and spend time with athletes from other sports and other countries?
Riley: The Olympic Village is such a unique atmosphere. It is a little like college in that every country has their own little dorm, and the dining hall seems to be the meeting place for everyone. It's fun to watch different groups of people go by and wonder what country the are from and sport they compete in.
Q: What would it mean to you to win a gold medal at the Olympics, and thus become one of five players ever to win an NCAA, WNBA and Olympic championship?
Riley: Winning a gold medal would be the ultimate level of achievement for my career. This is the highest level of competition for every athlete, and it's an even great accomplishment to be representing your country as you compete. To be one of the few players to achieve success on every level, would simply show how blessed I've been in my life and would be a tribute to the hard work I've put in and the support and devotion of all the people who have helped me along the way.
Q: How much of a role did your four years at Notre Dame have in your development as a basketball player?
Riley: My four years at Notre Dame will always be memories that I cherish. They were times that I developed as a person and a player. Championship experience is invaluable. Learning what it took to win a national championship provided me with a solid foundation of how to win on all levels.
-- ND --