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Opals ready to shake silver streak

25 July 2012

BASKETBALL: The Australian women’s basketball team arrived in London on Tuesday with one eye on a gold medal but looking straight at the blockbuster opening match of the tournament against host nation Great Britain.

The 12-women Opals team and coach Carrie Graf arrived in London on the Eurostar from Paris and were then welcomed into the Olympic Village, four days before they take on Great Britain at the London Basketball Arena on Saturday 28 July.

The team’s arrival into London rounded out a well planned and meticulous preparation, which has been highlighted by some strong performances in pre-Olympic matches.

Since arriving in Europe two weeks ago the Opals defeated France 69-59, Great Britain 87-63 and Angola 70-46 in Sheffield before travelling to France, where they defeated China 84-53 and Brazil 78-75 before dropping the final game 64-58 against the French.

“Preparations are good,” said four-time Olympian and triple silver medallist, Kristi Harrower.

“We just got back from France where we won two and lost one. The one we lost against France we were missing Lauren Jackson, Suzy Batkovic and Sam Richards so I think the preparations have been great. We’ve been getting better with every game and look forward to the Olympics that are ahead.”

The Australians go into the London 2012 Olympic Games in familiar territory as one of the Pre Olympic favourites, where they are expected to challenge the United State for the gold medal.

At the last three Olympic Games in Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), the Opals fell one hurdle short but left with their heads held high and a silver medal around their necks.

This time the plan is to go one better and Harrower believes the team is in good shape to shed the bridesmaid tag.

“This will be probably be my last, along with some of the seniors, and we believe this is the best time for us to win a gold medal. We have some great young kids coming through and we have a lot of depth. I think we say that it is the right time to win gold at every Olympic Games.”

Harrower’s happiness with the preparation in Sheffield and France is shared by Graf, who has been piloting the Opals since December 2008.

“It’s been really good for us,” Graf said. “We came into Sheffield and played a tournament there to get acclimatised and then came into the Village.

“We’ve had tough opponents and great games and it’s been great for us to throw our emerging talent in the mix. We had some close games and dropped (lost) to France but all in all the preparations have been great for us.”

Australia take on Great Britain at 10:15pm in London on Saturday 28 July to get their campaign underway before playing France, Russia, Brazil and Canada in the pool phase of the Games.

Lucy Mills in London

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