Teresa Edwards is the only female basketball player to win five Olympic medals (four of them gold). She also boasts the incredible feat of being both the youngest and the oldest gold medallist in her sport, having helped Team USA to the title for the first time in 1984 at the age of 20, and for the last in 2000 when she was 36.
Born in the small southern town of Cairo, Georgia (USA), the youngest of five siblings, Teresa Edwards developed her passion for basketball from a very early age. Her natural talent and dedication meant she was soon getting the better of the boys who she played with. In order to spend as much time as she could practicing on the court, she used to tell her mother that she was staying late at school to help one of her teachers. Growing up, her idol was Julius Erving (“Dr J”), the former Philadelphia 76ers star, and it wasn’t long before she was soon playing a starring role herself, for the Georgia Bulldogs, the women’s team of the University of Georgia. Between 1982 and 1986, the Bulldogs reached the Final Four of the NCAA Championships four years running, a feat that did not go unnoticed by the national selectors.
At the tender age of 20, Edwards, who had flourished in the position of guard, was picked for the US team for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. On 7 August, at the Inglewood Arena, she won her first Olympic title, becoming the youngest ever woman to win a basketball gold, after Team USA romped to an 85-55 victory over the Republic of Korea. Four years later – in the South Korean capital of Seoul – she was the leader of the team that mounted a successful defence of their Olympic title, edging Yugoslavia 77-70 in final, and contributing 14 points in the second period. At Barcelona 1992, Team USA suffered a surprise setback when they were beaten 79-73 by the Unified Team (comprising players from the former USSR) in the semi-finals, and had to settle for a bronze after defeating Cuba 88-76 in the third-place match.
With no professional women’s basketball league in the USA, in 1987 Edwards embarked on an eight-year spell playing abroad. He first stop was Vicenza in Italy, followed by Nagoya (Japan), Valencia (Spain) and finally Tarbes (France). She returned home in mid-1995 to begin preparations for the latest chapter in her Olympic odyssey, which took place in Atlanta in her native state of Georgia. On 19 July 1996, she celebrated her 32nd birthday by pronouncing the Olympic Oath during the Opening Ceremony, as the Modern Games celebrated their centenary. And at a personal level, Edwards enjoyed her most successful Olympic tournament, setting a new record of 64 decisive passes, which stands to this day, on the way to captaining Team USA to a blistering victory over Brazil 111-87 in the final, as she completed a hat-trick of Olympic golds.
By the time Sydney 2000 came around Edwards was 36, but still a key player for the Americans, who broke the hearts of the host nation in the final with a 76-64 victory. In claiming a record fourth Olympic gold (a feat subsequently equalled by Lisa Leslie in 2008), she became the oldest ever female player to win the basketball title at the Games. Her overall tally of five women’s basketball medals remains unmatched
Edwards is the most decorated women’s basketball player in history. During a 16 –year career at the top, Edwards represented Team USA at 19 major international tournaments, 14 of which ended in triumph, to go with one silver and three bronze medals. Her 161 appearances at these events produced 153 victories and just eight defeats. She also garnered a number of individual Olympic records, having played 32 matches - more than any other woman – and completed more decisive passes (143) and interceptions (59) than any other player. Her tally of 265 points, also makes her the third most prolific scorer in Olympic history. Her home town of Cairo paid tribute to the glittering achievements of its proudest daughter when it chose to rename a street after Edwards. And in 2012 she returned to the Olympic fray, when she was appointed Chef de Mission of the US delegation for the London Games.
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