SAITAMA, Japan — The last Team USA dynasty still standing unscathed here at the Olympics is, undoubtedly, the most dominant.
It isn’t men’s basketball, which and .
It isn’t women’s soccer, which .
It isn’t even women’s water polo, which last week lost its first Olympic match since 2008.
It is, rather, the Olympic institution that won its 53rd consecutive Olympic game here on Wednesday. The laughably deep U.S. women’s basketball team, with WNBA all-stars in surplus, made light work of Australia in a quarterfinal. Breanna Stewart, the best player in the world, made 20 first-half points look easy. Twenty-four players from both teams saw the court in a 79-55 U.S. win, and the 12 best were the 12 Americans.
All around them, throughout Tokyo, American gold medal favorites have been faltering. One of the themes of these games has been the imperfection of the seemingly perfect. Simone Biles, who seemed a lock for multiple golds, . Katie Ledecky, who only won two golds and two silvers, because of the pressure and unmeetable expectations it naturally creates.
The U.S. women perhaps felt that pressure in basketball pool play here at the Saitama Super Arena. They underperformed. After bludgeoning every Rio 2016 opponent by 19 points or (often) more, here in Japan, they , and .
They no longer seemed untouchable, and Dawn Staley felt the newfound competitiveness was a sign of things to come.
“The countries here at the Olympic Games, they pour into their women’s teams, and now you’re seeing the effects of it,” Staley said. It’s a trend similar to the one that U.S. women’s soccer has experienced. Investment in the sport globally has closed the gap between the U.S. and the world. “We’ve known we’re in a dogfight every time we step on the floor,” Staley said. “If you just do a little research, you’ll know this is how it’s supposed to be.”
But here on Wednesday, there was no dogfight. No closing gap. Stewart propelled the U.S. to an early 21-6 lead, and neither she nor her teammates ever looked back. They moved crisply, and moved the ball willingly, and played disruptive defense.
They and their predecessors have not lost an Olympic game in nearly three decades, not since a 1992 semifinal. If they win two more games here, and claim a seventh straight gold medal, they will equal the team-sport record, set by U.S. men’s basketball from 1936-1968.
Someday they will fall, because they, like other greats who’ve fallen here, are fallible humans.
That day does not appear to be arriving anytime soon.
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