Gaucher, Achonwa, Ayim, Nurse to lead Canada in quest for Olympic basketball medal

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TAMPA, Fla. — Three-time Olympians Natalie Achonwa, Miranda Ayim and Kim Gaucher will lead Canada's women's basketball team in its quest for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

The experienced trio, plus WNBA players Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton, were named to the team which clinched its Tokyo berth way back in February of 2020, going undefeated in its qualifying tournament in Belgium.

"Some of my favourite basketball memories have come from proudly representing Canada at the Olympic Games," said Gaucher. "There is nothing greater than having the opportunity to pull on the red and white jersey with Canada across your chest. And to be able to do that for a third time on the world's largest sporting stage is something I never imagined.

"I am so proud of the players and staff who have worked incredibly hard to earn this moment. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of great young players in our country and of course chase the podium in Tokyo."

The 37-year-old Gaucher made headlines recently after her emotional Instagram plea to bring three-month-old daughter Sophie with her to Tokyo so she can continue breastfeeding. Basketball Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee are supporting Gaucher in her appeal to the IOC. Because of COVID-19, Tokyo Olympic organizers have ruled that no family members can travel to Tokyo.

The No. 4-ranked Canadian women are making their third consecutive Olympic appearance. They were eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2012 and 2016, and hope to climb the podium in Tokyo. Their highest finish as fourth at the 1984 Games is Los Angeles.

"There has been no greater honour for me than representing my country on the world stage this past decade," said Achonwa, a forward for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. "With the pandemic, the last year-and-a-half has felt like forever, so I can’t wait to join the team in Tokyo and put back on a Canada jersey.

"I can’t believe that I will be going to my third Olympic Games this summer. We're focused on bringing a medal back to Canada and they say 'third times the charm' so hopefully, this is the summer our dreams come to fruition."

The roster was unveiled during halftime of the Canadian men's game versus Greece in Victoria. The men must win the six-country last-chance qualifying tournament to earn their first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada, the women gathered in Tampa last month, where they're training at the Toronto Raptors' temporary facility. They recently finished fourth at the FIBA Women's AmeriCup in Puerto Rico, their first games since the Olympic qualifier in 2020.

Coach Lisa Thomaidis is excited about her roster's mix of youth and experience, including six Olympic rookies. Half the team played play at previous Olympics.

"We've selected a team that is dynamic, relentless and together . . . and we'll be leaning on our collective experience to navigate our Tokyo journey," she said.

Prior to the Games, the team will travel to Kariya, Japan, for its final pre-Olympic training camp.

Canada opens its Olympic tournament against Serbia on July 26. The women will play South Korea on the 29th, and Spain on Aug. 1. The quarterfinals are Aug. 4, the semis are Aug 6, and the bronze and gold-medal games are Aug. 8. All games are at the Saitama Super Arena.

"Our women's basketball team is packed, not only with incredibly talented players but with incredible community leaders," said Canada's chef de mission Marnie McBean. "They have figured out how to use their diverse voices to advocate and be allies for change, be that equity or inclusion, for all ages."

Roster:

Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ont.); Kayla Alexander (Milton, Ont.); Laeticia Amihere (Mississauga, Ont.); Miranda Ayim (London, Ont.); Bridget Carleton (Chatham, Ont.); Shay Colley (Brampton, Ont.); Aaliyah Edwards (Kingston, Ont.); Nirra Fields (Montreal, Que.); Kim Gaucher (Mission, B.C.); Kia Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.); Shaina Pellington (Pickering, Ont.); Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Toronto.)

Alternates:

Sami Hill (Toronto); Aislinn Konig (Surrey, B.C.); Merissah Russell (Ottawa); Jamie Scott (Pasco, Washington)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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