Looking back at the 1995 FIBA Americas gold medal win
The Senior Women's National Team is coming off a great start to the summer having won the Gold Medal at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. The next step for them is to qualify for the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro by winning the FIBA Americas Tournament taking place in Edmonton. Leading up to the Americas Tournament we spoke to our SWNT members and they gave us their thoughts on a few things and here's what they had to say. To buy tickets for the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, click here.
In 1995, at McMaster University’s Burridge Gymnasium, Canada took on Cuba for a spot in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It’s the last time Canada hosted the FIBA Americas tournament and the only time the Women’s National Team has won the event.
“I can remember a packed gym at Mac,” says former Senior Women’s National Team player Bev Smith. “It was hot and with the humidity you almost felt like you were playing in South American conditions, which may have helped the Cubans more than anything.”
“I can remember the crowd was just so behind us that we were able to dig that much deeper to (try) to win the game,” recalls Smith. “I don’t remember moments in the game but I do remember feeling that the crowd was going to carry us. That’s a moment in time you feel you can change the trajectory of the country.”
Leading up to the tournament, former SWNT player Bev Smith remembers that there was a cloud of disappointment in her mind. Canada’s Senior Women were a team on the rise on the international stage in the 80s: A third place finish at the 1979 World Championships and Pan Am Games, fourth at the ’83 Pan Am Games, a fourth place finish at the ’84 Olympics and a bronze medal finish at the ’86 World Championships. But after finishing third at the 1987 Pan Am Games, the team failed to qualify for the ’88 Olympics which seemed to take the wind out of the Program’s sails.
That disappointment wouldn’t last too long, though. The Senior Women’s program would play their way to the 1990 and 1994 World Championships coming in seventh place both occasions. This would set up their shot at Olympics redemption the following summer on home soil.
Throughout the five-team tournament Canada played relatively easy games against Chile, Puerto Rico and Argentina winning by an average margin of 48. Their only blemish would be a tight game to Cuba in round robin play where Canada lost 86-83. In the semi-finals, Canada would dispatch Puerto Rico 70-41, setting up a final against Cuba for the automatic spot in the Olympics.
Heading into that championship game, Smith recalls the team was almost a walking wounded as the tournament format placed a heavy physical toll on the players’ bodies.
“I remember we were pretty beat up during the final game; some (of us) had broken fingers, some had broken toes. We all decided that we’d numb the pain and go to battle.”
That 1995 SWNT would indeed battle and go on to beat Cuba 80-73 in front of a packed house and claim a spot in the Olympics the following summer. This year is the 20th anniversary of that historic win on home soil. The 2015 edition of the Women’s National Team is looking to do the same. Edmonton will host the FIBA Americas Championship and in a matter of days the same team that captured Pan Am Games Gold will look to make it a perfect 2-0 when playing for a seat at the Summer Olympiad in Canada.
Looking back at her team in 1995 and the current team she now helps direct as an assistant, Coach Smith sees definite parallels to both. She uses words like resilient, tough, work ethic, passionate and committed to describe them. Of course, their paths to the point of a possible spot in the Olympics also seem to be similar.
“What I try to bring is what I think will help their confidence on the court. We have some momentum heading into FIBA Americas but some teams may have a bullseye on our backs. We have Gold Medal standards we try to play to. I help the team focus on that process and stay in the moment. I can sense what our players are feeling right now and it’s a chance to really set the table for greater things,” said Smith.
If the past is any indication of what may unfold in the coming days, no one will have any problem of history repeating itself.
Ray Bala is a freelance sports journalist and blogger as well as a passionate Canadian basketball supporter. His stories have found their way into SLAM Magazine, The Globe and Mail and Hoop Magazine to name a few. Outside of his freelance work he is currently a senior contributor to NorthpoleHoops.com and SoleShift.