April 27 (Reuters) - Five-time defending gold medalist the United States unveiled a veteran-laden Olympic women’s basketball team on Wednesday that will head to the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games seeking a sixth straight crown.
There will be no lack of experience on a squad that boasts nine returning gold medalists led by three-time Olympic champions Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi.
The team will be coached by Geno Auriemma, who has steered the U.S. women to an overall 23-0 record and gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and the 2010 and 2014 world championships.
The U.S. women have won 41 consecutive Olympic games since losing to the Unified Team at the Barcelona 1992 semifinals.
“Obviously it’s always incredibly difficult to try to identify 12 players from a group of so many great players. The committee had a really difficult job this year, because it’s the first time in a long time that a lot more than 12 players could easily have been named to that team,” said Auriemma.
“But the 12 that were named are a great combination of Olympic gold-medal experience, multiple gold medal winners and great leaders,” he said.
“There is also an influx of young players, which not only is going to be a great benefit to us this year, but I think it will set the stage going forward in two years for the world Championship and then in four years in Tokyo.”
Also named to the squad are two-time Olympic gold medalists Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, and 2012 Olympic gold medalists Tina Charles, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Competing in their first Olympic Games are Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart.
Failing to make the final cut was Candace Parker, an Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and 2012 and a two-time WNBA most valuable player.
The United States will begin preliminary round play in Group B with Canada, Senegal, Serbia and two other teams that will earn their berths at the world Olympic qualifying tournament June 13-19 in Nantes, France. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Mark Heinrich)