Amid concerns about health, security and logistical problems at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the U.S. basketball players are staying afloat — literally.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are living aboard a cruise ship during the games: the nine-deck, 196-cabin Silver Cloud.
But the players have other challenges to focus on.
At their last practice session on U.S. soil before going to Rio, the women's team huddled around Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball, who told them they had a “target” on their backs in terms of the competition. The United States has won five consecutive gold medals in women's basketball and hasn’t lost a single game since the 1992 Olympics.
The players seemed to understand the nature of the competition. Some of them spoke to VOA about how they have mentally prepared themselves for the competition.
No automatic victories
Tamika Catchings, an Olympic veteran with three gold medals, is ready to win again.
“We just have to know that we have a target on our backs and every single country has been preparing for the past three or four years for this opportunity to play in the Olympics,” she said. “So, for us, we cannot just get comfortable and think we are just going to walk out on the court and automatically win. We have been preparing the way we always do, focusing on every single game individually, and we will be competitive.”
At age 37, Catchings is winding up her career as a basketball player, and this will be her chance to win one more gold medal with her American teammates.
“I feel great about going. I am excited about representing my country another time, and this is my last time, so I am even more excited,” she said.
Plenty of medal-winners
The women's team has extensive Olympic experience: four one-time gold medalists, two two-time gold medalists and three four-time gold medalists.
Maya Moore, who won at the 2012 Olympics in London, told reporters that the final practice in Houston helped steel the team for what’s ahead.
“We are pushing each other,” she said. “If we can do it against each other, we can do it against anyone in the world.”
All the players and coaches are aware of the news stories out of Brazil about the spread of the Zika virus, hotel rooms with malfunctioning bathrooms, polluted water, dangerous waves on the beach, political and social discord, and the worries about possible terrorist activity.
Geno Auriemma, head coach of the U.S. women's team, told VOA he was not wasting any time or energy thinking about those issues.
“The focus is on winning a gold medal,” he said. “All the other stuff that’s around there, whether we worry about it or not ... it is not going to make it go away, so we are just going to deal with it."
Staying offshore on a boat has relieved team members of some of the health concerns, although they will still have to be wary of going out on deck during the evening, when mosquitoes could be buzzing about, potentially carrying the Zika virus. They will also have to contend with getting to and from the game sites through traffic-clogged streets.
Center Brittney Griner, the tallest player on the American squad (6 feet 8 inches, or a little over 2 meters), said she has confidence in the U.S. Olympic Committee, which prepared the way for the players and has confronted all the issues of concern. Griner is especially excited about the staying with her teammates on a floating hotel.
“We are staying on a boat the whole time,” she said with a smile. “It will be my first time ... so I am pretty excited for that!”
The U.S. women's basketball team will face Senegal in its opening game on Sunday in preliminary-round competition.