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US to face strong challenge at Beijing
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Defending champions U.S. women's basketball team will meet a strong challenge headed by Australia and Russia when they are vying for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold in Beijing on August.

"We know it will not be an easy road to the gold medal in Beijing, the rest of the world has gotten much better over the last four years," said Renee Brown, USA Basketball vice president for senior women and chair of the selection committee.

The Americans have collected a record five gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal, and compiled a 42-3 overall record in seven Olympic appearances (they boycotted the 1980 Olympics) since women's basketball was officially introduced at the 1976 Olympic Games.

However, it has become more and more difficult for the US women's team to win the gold medals over the past three Olympics.

In 1996, The Americans beat Brazil with a 111-87 victory for the title following an easy road to the final. In 2000, the winning was not as easy as four years ago, but the red, white and blue still managed to defeat South Korea in the semifinals 78-65, and the hosts Australia in the final 76-54.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, the United States narrowly edged Russia with a 66-62 win in the semifinals. While in the final, the USA women suffered a stronger challenge from Australia in the first half, where they only built a three-point (29-26) lead before making it 74-63 for the gold medal.

Moreover, the USA fell short of their golden dream in the 2006 World Championship for women in Brazil when they were beaten by Russia in the semifinal and forced to settle for bronze.

It was a depression indeed but not a comedown for women's basketball in the United States. It has shown that women's basketball in the rest of the world has been improving, especially in Russia.

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