Achonwa eyes up the Olympic podium in Tokyo with Canada
SCHIO (Italy) - Natalie Achonwa is determined to make history for her country and propel Canada to their first ever Olympic medal at this year's showpiece event.
Preparing to participate in the Games for a third time, the 28-year-old is adamant that it is time Canada make a leap towards the podium steps - especially having had the extra year of preparation under their belts.
"WE WANT A MEDAL. WE WANT TO STAND ON THAT PODIUM AT THE END OF THIS 4-5 YEAR CYCLE."
Canada last reached the Semi-Finals way back in 1984 when they just missed out on a medal, but still attaining their highest ever finish of 4th. Speaking to Sportsnet, Achonwa is ready to get the job done - admitting that Tokyo is never far from her thoughts.
"The Olympics are always in the back of my mind because playing for the national team and playing for Team Canada is ingrained in who I am. That is my identity in who I am not only as a basketball player but as a person," she said.
"Representing my country is always in the back of my mind, but on a more focused level, the Olympics doesn't just come around every four years, it’s every day for four years.
"So we've had events that have been part of our preparation, that have been part of our journey to get to the Olympics. So, yeah, when we get there, that’s the final tournament, the final hurrah, but it's something that's been building for four years, and now it'll be five, I guess, until we actually play in the Olympics."
She added: "It's something that's always ingrained in training and everything that I do, because we want a medal. We want to stand on that podium at the end of this 4-5 year cycle here."
Having gone through the FIBA Women's Olympic Pre-Qualifying Americas Tournament, Canada confirmed their spot in Tokyo at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament - Ostend, Belgium last February, where they registered three wins in as many games against Belgium, Japan and Sweden.
Achonwa could certainly be the key for Canada realising their ambition. She posted a sensational EuroLeague Women Regular Season at Beretta Famila Schio and recently lifted the Italian Cup with her club side.
Like everyone else though, she has had to come to terms with the pandemic disrupting her preparation for Tokyo, but is satisfied that despite not being able to link up for any national team get-togethers, Canada basketball has done everything possible in challenging circumstances to make the best of a tough situation.
She revealed: "We did a virtual training camp where we spent about two hours a day on a Zoom call doing everything from team building to mental training with our sports psych, to tactical stuff, watching film, breaking down film. It was a tactical week via Zoom.
"But a benefit and an advantage that we've always had as Canada Basketball is our cohesiveness and togetherness, and being able to at least do this virtual Zoom that's kept us all on the same page and keeps us in touch with each other and in tune with each other.
"And it wasn't just that week," stressed Achonwa.
"We meet almost every two weeks on Zoom just to connect and see where everyone's at and go through anything new that we have. So it's definitely been a challenge but I have to give kudos to our coaching staff and our support staff for being creative."
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Meanwhile with fans missing out and having to also cope with changes to routines imposed by the coronavirus, Achonwa was quick to emphasize just how important a role that supporters still have.
She stated: "Although we can't have fans in the stands you can support us by turning on our games, sharing posts, buying merch, whatever you can do to be able to spread the love, spread the game. I think it's not only for the next generation, it's for anyone and everyone that loves good basketball.
"Tune in, watch the games, buy a jersey, support women’s hoops," concluded Achonwa.
Canada will play in Group A of the Tokyo 2020 Women's Olympic Basketball Tournament with Korea, Serbia and Spain.