With just under two months to go before their opening game at the London Olympics, the Russian women's basketball team are aiming to go at least one better than their two previous bronze medal finishes.
Since Russia began participating in the Olympics as an independent state, it has never tasted victory in either the men's or women's competitions. But 2012 represents two poignant anniversaries for two major victories in Soviet basketball.
In 1972, the men’s team claimed their first Olympic gold in Munich in a dramatic final against the Americans, while two decades later, in 1992, the women’s CIS Unified Team celebrated one of their big triumphs in Barcelona by defeating China in the decider.
Ahead of the upcoming London Games, one of Russia's leading players, Olga Arteshina, admits even today it is hard to underestimate those achievements.
“To be honest, when you stand among such great players and feel their passion about this game, it really makes you understand how important such a victory could be for the country. And it's also great to hear them wishing the best for us in an atmosphere like that,” she said during a Moscow meeting with the country’s basketball veterans.
However, besides following in the country's victorious footsteps, the reigning European champions are aiming high, in their own right, at the Olympics.
Their performance at the Athens and Beijing Games earned Russia two consecutive bronze medals, and this year Boris Sokolovsky's team will definitely be looking for medals of a higher value.
“To achieve these goals, the coaching staff would have to pick 12 players out of the 22 that were called up for the national squad,” he says.
The absence of some of the team's long-term leaders like Svetlana Abrosimova or Maria Stepanova through injury may see new talent step in.
Anna Petrakova is one such player willing to become one of that lucky dozen who will represent Russia in London. The 27-year-old believes everyone has a chance to make the team.
Inspired by the glorious results of previous generations, and hungry for success of their own, the Russian team now heads into seven weeks of training. And if their physical strength and tactical skills could be joined by a little bit of luck, the country's basketball history may acquire another distinguished chapter.
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