Basketball: Canada's Nurse takes the long road in search of Olympic podiumFILE PHOTO: Basketball player Kia Nurse arrives at the iHeartRadio MuchMusic Video Awards (MMVA) in Toronto
By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Kia Nurse wants to step onto an Olympic podium so badly that she plans to take a break from an Australian league title defence next month to return home and compete in a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
For Nurse, a roughly 20-hour trek to Canada from Australia one month into the Canberra Capitals' Women's National Basketball League season is a small price to pay if it improves her chances of leaving Tokyo with a medal around her neck.
"For us, we didn't reach our goal of getting on the podium in Rio (2016 Olympics) and that's what we want to go after again," Nurse told Reuters after an event just outside Toronto where Empire Company and its family of brands were announced as the first official grocer of the Canadian Olympic team.
"Our team is really, really different than what we had in Rio. Everybody is really developed... so it's all about continuing to work towards that goal."
Nurse, who is the face of Canadian women's basketball, was part of the squad that fell in the quarter-finals in Rio and feels that loss will prove a learning experience for a team comprised of both veteran and well-developed younger players.
The 23-year-old guard was not with the national team last month in Puerto Rico for the FIBA Women's AmeriCup -- the first of a three-stage qualification process for Tokyo -- where Canada lost in the final to the United States.
Nurse said that run, where fifth-ranked Canada reached the podium for the eighth time in their last nine editions of the AmeriCup despite missing key players, was a testament to the team's depth.
"It just shows that our team has always been a team that is more than the sum of its part," said Nurse, who this year was named a Women's National Basketball Association All-Star after being the second-leading scorer on the New York Liberty.
"For us it's never been a one-man show or a two-man show. We've been really good across the board."
The result secured a ticket to Edmonton for a Nov. 14-17 Olympic pre-qualifying tournament where Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico square off with two spots in February's final global qualification event up for grabs.
These are the types of tournaments Nurse lives for after having heard many times before from older players about the struggles the national team used to endure, and she refuses to consider a return to those days.
"They have told us all of the horror stories about how people never really wanted to play against them because it wasn't worth it for them," said Nurse.
"But now we are at this place in the world where we can go to great tournaments all the time and people want to play us in exhibition games just so that we can have a friendly and it's a great opportunity for both sides."
Basketball fever swept across Canada in June when the Toronto Raptors won the country's first National Basketball Association championship and in doing so gave the nation some added swagger.
But while Nurse said the Raptors' triumph bodes well for the future of Canadian basketball, it did not give the national team any more pride than they already had.
"We always knew that we belonged and I don't think that really ever depended on a men's team winning a title," said Nurse. "For us it was always just a matter of continuing to get better each year so that we could be on the world stage."
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)