By Scott Malone
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - The U.S. women's basketball team are used to having a target on their backs and will use that as motivation at the Rio Olympics where the players hope to extend their record run of five consecutive gold medals.
The team will arrive at the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games riding a 41-game Olympic winning streak that dates back to the 1992 bronze medal game in Barcelona and well aware that they will bring out the best in every opponent they face.
"Every single time we go out, everybody's gunning for us, so you never have an opportunity to not have a good game," said 36-year-old forward Tamika Catchings, who was on the last three gold medal-winning U.S. teams. "They all play their best games against us. You want to be the country, you want to be the team to take the USA out."
The team's remarkable run has coincided with the rise of professional women's basketball in the United States. The first gold medal of the American team's current run came at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the same year the WNBA was founded.
"This is all we've ever known. Whenever you put on a USA jersey, everyone wants you to lose," said 29-year-old forward Candace Parker, who is competing for a spot on her third Olympic squad. "There's a swagger, but you want to be careful to be confident but not cocky."
Sue Bird, a 35-year-old guard, said after so many years of dominating the sport, the nerves that come with being rooted against outside the United States provide powerful motivation.
"Whether we're playing in the gold medal game or we're training and playing against some club team in Europe, they always give us their best shot," Bird said. "And we need that, to be honest. That keeps us on our toes."
Also on her mind: The team's seven-point loss to Russia in the semi-finals of the 2006 world championships, which were also played in Brazil.
"There were a lot of people there, I'm sure a lot of them were Brazilian and they were cheering against us," Bird said. "I'm sure that will be the case again. And you know what? It makes for a really exciting atmosphere."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)