The Americans' 92-61 defeat of Canada in Sunday's bronze medal game was scant consolation for their loss the previous day. Nevertheless, by having stuck it out in the village, the women will take home with them experiences that their male counterparts can only imagine.
Around midnight last Thursday, forward Bridgette Gordon realized she had left two diamond earrings, wrapped in trainers' tape, in the locker room at Havana's Sports City Coliseum. In a panic, Gordon and Susan Blackwood, a team official, flagged a cab outside the athletes' village and raced the 15 minutes back to the arena. Finding the locker room spotless, they persuaded maintenance workers to empty the contents of two dumpsters out back. There, a crowd of Cubans helped them pick through the garbage. Remarkably, after about an hour of looking with a broom and a flashlight, they found the wad of tape with the diamonds safe inside. Gordon and Blackwood thanked the cluster of workers, who refused to accept so much as a U.S. team pin for their help.
The women brought other memories home. Center Venus Lacy met a shy hurdler named Elbert Ellis from North Carolina in the village and took a liking to him. Forward Andrea Lloyd won't forget how she sweet-talked a factotum into giving her not merely one of the village's scarce toilet seats but a padded one at that. And the entire team will remember the sight of the Cuban in the crowd the afternoon they lost, the guy who participated in the Wave whenever it made its way through his section of the arena. You might recognize him. Bearded guy. Wears fatigues.
"You have to keep things in perspective," said Lloyd, who recalled losing a game during a tour of China in 1985. "I look back fondly on that trip. Although basketball is the thing we focused on here, we took advantage of the chance to learn about another culture. Besides, during training we're only around each other, and after a while you look forward to meeting other people."
As for our men in Havana, they defeated Uruguay 114-68 on Monday, and then decamped again, Boy Scouts no more, for Coconut Grove. For two nights before the semifinals, they could contemplate in airconditioned comfort this cold truth: For multimillionaires-in-waiting, it's not a matter of hoping to win the gold medal. It's a matter of having to.