Beijing Olympics

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Eric Gay/AP
Team Russia's Becky Hammon

All-American Girl Hammon Leads Russians Against Team USA

August 20, 2008 05:37 PM
by Denis Cummings
The U.S. women’s basketball team plays Thursday morning in the semifinals against Russia, a team led by American Becky Hammon.

Hammon Takes on Home Country Thursday

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Hammon, Rapid City, S.D.-native with no Russian ancestry became a Russian citizen late last year and joined the Russian national team. She has said that her only motivation was to play in the Olympics.

When Russia played the U.S. in a pre-Olympics exhibition, Hammon closed her eyes and put her hand on her heart during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After the game, Hammon said, “I think the pre-game was worse than anything. Once the ball went up, it was just another basketball game.”

She scored 10 points, but Russia was blown out 93-58. Now, they have a rematch with a spot in the Olympic final on the line. “This is the moment that Becky Hammon has dreamed of,” writes the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, “and the matchup she has dreaded.”

If Russia can keep the game close, Hammon may be faced with a situation where she can knock her home country out of gold medal contention with a last-second shot. “I had to play that scenario out in my mind,” said Hammon. “I played it out before I made the decision. I wouldn’t say yes if I wasn’t able to make or take the shot. I wouldn’t cheat the integrity of the Olympics. I’m there to win.”

Background: Hammon joins Russians

Hammon, like many American female basketball players, plays in Russia during the off-season, where salaries are far higher than in the WNBA. The salary is even larger if a player has Russian or European citizenship.

Hammon obtained Russian citizenship last year to secure a lucrative contract from club team CSKA Moscow. When it appeared that she had little chance of making the U.S. Olympic team, she decided to join the Russian national team.

“There’s nothing I wanted more in my basketball career than to represent the United States. I grew up dreaming to play in the Olympics for my home country,” Hammon said. “This is just a great opportunity for me to play in the Olympics.”

The move drew criticism from U.S. coach Anne Donovan, who called Hammon a “traitor” and said, “It’s unimaginable, especially when you are talking about Becky Hammon, who is apple pie and that is what she always has been known as. To think of her willingly putting on a jersey for Russia is unfathomable to me. You’d have to tie me down and force it over my head and I still would be fighting it off, I’m sure. I’m an American. Period.”

Related Topic: Players competing for other countries

Hammon became the focus of the debate over athletes playing for other countries, which has become a common practice. Two other Americans—Deanna Nolan and Kelly Miller—tried to join the Russian women’s team but were not chosen for the final roster.

The Russian men’s team also has an American player, J.R. Holden. Germany featured American center Chris Kaman, whose father now refuses to talk to him.

In beach volleyball, both Georgian teams are represented by Brazilians. The nationality of the women’s team became the center of controversy after a Russian player said they should not comment on the Georgian conflict because they were not Georgians.

Table tennis players from China, where pingpong is the national sport, are found on teams from across the world. “Anyone who fears a global takeover by one country should look away now,” writes the Financial Times, “here is the line-up for the Olympic table tennis women’s team event, which began on Wednesday: China v China, China v China, China v China, and China v China.”

The United States has also attracted many immigrant athletes to compete in the Olympics and pad the medal count. Using EB-1 visas intended for aliens of extraordinary ability, the U.S. has brought in about 50 Olympic athletes, eight of whom have won medals. “We call them migrant laborers,” says Kevin B. Wamsley of the International Center for Olympic Studies.

Reference: Olympic eligibility rules

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