SEATTLE — Growing up, many athletes dream of being an Olympic champion, at least every four years or so.
For Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, that dream has come true — twice.
She has two gold medals to show for her Olympic efforts and hopes to add a third in London at the 2012 Summer Games.
Bird is one of three players on the U.S. women’s basketball team seeking a third consecutive gold medal. The other two players are Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings,
“I’m very excited” to be chasing a third gold medal, Bird said during a July 11 press conference. “We have a really good group, very talented.”
She joked with reporters that her other two golds are in a safety deposit box located “somewhere else” and then tried to convince everyone that the box resides in the Cayman Islands and requires a thumb print and an eye laser to access.
With two golds to her name, Bird certainly is used to being an Olympian. Making things even easier this time around is her familiarity with Geno Auriemma, the U.S. women’s head coach.
Bird played at the University of Connecticut for Auriemma, who is coaching the women’s Olympic team for the first time. The USA roster also includes six former UConn players, meaning half the team is made up of former Huskies — which also adds to Bird’s comfort zone.
“(Being on a team with) some of my former college teammates as well just some other UConn players, even though I didn’t play with them — it’s still family,” Bird said.
Auriemma is the head of that family, and Bird said it’s “going to be great” to be in his charge again.
“I’m very familiar with his style,” she said. “I understand him as a coach and what he wants from his players. … It’s kind of unique because I get to actually help bring him a championship that he doesn’t have.”
Auriemma has won seven NCAA championships at the University of Connecticut, but has never won an Olympic gold medal as a head coach.
There is no question that the 2012 women’s national team is talented. Some are even calling it the best women’s team ever assembled. The question is, how long it will take this team to come together after a limited time preparing for the Olympics.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Bird said. “Hopefully not long because we have played together so much over the last couple of years and even beyond that to be honest.”
The players that make up this team won the gold medal at the 2010 World Basketball Championships.
With so much talent, one might think ego would be a concern — who gets the ball and in what situations. Bird said that won’t be a problem.
“The cool thing about the Olympic team is that nobody cares about minutes or points, it’s not about that,” Bird said. “You just go out there and you do everything that you can to help the team win.”
She said the problem might not be sharing the basketball, it might be oversharing the basketball.
“When we were here in May, the big joke was everybody was passing the ball too much,” Bird said of the United States’ 100-62 exhibition victory over China in Seattle just before the start of the WNBA season.
“Nobody wants to be that selfish player because it’s just not that kind of environment.”
Making the Olympics all the more unique for Bird is that the United States’ stiffest competition is likely to come from Australia, led by Bird’s Seattle Storm teammate Lauren Jackson. Jackson has missed the first half of the WNBA season training for the Olympics.
“Right away Australia is going to be the team almost, in my opinion, to beat because they have been together for two or three months,” Bird said. “So you can’t really get around that. They are going to be clicking.”
As one of the older players on the U.S. roster, Bird is expected to be one of the team leaders. It wasn’t like that in her first Olympic appearance in 2004.
“I had the luxury of being the backup to the backup, so there really weren’t many nerves,” Bird said. “It was just, ‘Hey, I get to go enjoy the Olympics.’
“I remember the gold medal game that year. Dawn (Staley) picked up two quick fouls, you only get five overseas, and PeeWee (Shannon Johnson) was throwing up in the locker room at halftime because she was not feeling so well. So there was this part of me that was like, ‘Oh man, I haven’t played in like five games and I could have to go in for the gold medal game.’ But otherwise I just had the luxury of learning and enjoying the experience.”
Enjoying the experience doesn’t mean just playing basketball. When the team is not playing or practicing, Bird said she will explore other Olympic events and see the sights.
“I have never really been the hang-in-the-hotel type,” she said. “Even though we are playing every other day and you have to take care of your body and all that kind of stuff, you do get enough time. Sometimes the events that you want to see don’t always work time-wise, but I definitely plan on going to see some events. I just have to kind of check out the schedule.
“I have never been to London so I do kind of want to do the sight-seeing thing and USA basketball does a great job of setting things up for us.”
Back on the court, Bird realizes she is no longer the young player who is the backup to the backup. The 31-year-old point guard is now one of the focal points on Team USA and certainly one of its leaders.
And with three trips to Olympics already, she has to start dealing with the questions of how many more times, if any, she will be an Olympian.
“I don’t know,” Bird said. “Now that I’m at that point I don’t know how or when you make that decision. It’s not something I think about. I’m sure when the time comes and I have to think about it and make that decision I will see where I am. But I don’t really look ahead.”
For now, the goal is to win her third gold medal. With two NCAA championships, two WNBA championships and two gold medals already in hand, Bird was asked if she had enough room for another gold medal.
“Obviously, of course, in the thumbprint, eye-scan safety deposit box there is room,” she said with a laugh.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.