Aug. 28, 2004
ATHENS, Greece – As birthday presents go, it’s hard to top Olympic gold. Former Notre Dame All-America center and 2001 consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley celebrated her 25th birthday in style on Saturday as she and her United States women’s basketball teammates won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games with a 74-63 victory over Australia at the Olympic Indoor Hall in Athens, Greece. Riley now takes her place in the basketball history books as one of five players ever to win an NCAA, WNBA and Olympic championship, joining current U.S. teammates Sheryl Swoopes and Swin Cash, as well as former Olympians Cynthia Cooper and Kara Wolters in that elite sorority. Riley also capped off the most successful Olympic run ever for Notre Dame athletics, becoming the fourth athlete with Notre Dame ties to strike gold for the U.S. in Athens. Entering this year’s Games, only two former Irish athletes — basketball players Vince Boryla (1948) and Adrian Dantley (1976) — had won gold medals. And Notre Dame had never before had more than two medalists in a single Olympiad — in 1932, Alex Wilson won bronze in the 400 meters and silver in the 800 meters for Canada; in 1948, Jim Delaney added a silver in the shot put to Boryla’s gold, and Rick Wohlhueter took a bronze in the 800 meters to pair up with Dantley’s gold. The Notre Dame alumnae at the 2004 Athens Games doubled the school’s previous medal count. Former Irish women’s soccer players Shannon Boxx and Kate Sobrero (Markgraf) contributed to the Americans’ 2-1 overtime win over Brazil in Thursday’s gold medal match. Meanwhile, current freshman fencer Mariel Zagunis won gold for Team USA in the individual sabre competition, becoming the first American woman ever to earn an Olympic title and the first U.S. fencer of either gender in 100 years to take home the gold medal. Riley saw action in seven of Team USA’s eight games at this year’s Olympics, grabbing a rebound in the closing seconds of Saturday’s gold medal win over Australia. During her first Olympic competition, Riley averaged 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game with a .667 field goal percentage (10-of-15). The U.S. knew the contest with Australia, a rematch of the 2000 Olympic gold medal game in Sydney, would be a challenge, as the Opals featured a handful of WNBA standouts, including the current league MVP, Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm. The first half of the gold medal game was a defensive struggle, with Team USA taking a 29-26 lead to the locker room. However, Australia came back and when Suzy Batkovic hit a jumper at the 8:56 mark of the third quarter, the U.S. trailed in the second half for the first time in these Olympics, 31-29. The Aussies maintained their slim edge for much of the third period, before the American side put together a 13-1 run that ended the frame and opened the fourth quarter, turning a two-point deficit into a 61-51 lead. Australia never got closer than six points and Tina Thompson slammed the door on a last-ditch comeback by the Opals, burying a three-pointer with three minutes to play. With the victory, the U.S. extended its Olympic winning streak to 25 games, dating back to the 1992 Barcelona Games, while also claiming its third consecutive gold medal. Thompson led Team USA players in double figures with 18 points, while Dawn Staley added 14 points in her last Olympic contest. Penny Taylor had a team-high 16 points for Australia, while Jackson, who came into the final averaging 24.4 ppg., was held to just 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting, although she did grab a game-best 14 rebounds.
— ND —