Turkey's Sanders eyeing Olympic medal in Rio
ISTANBUL (Rio 2016 Olympic Games) - As Turkey headed to the 2016 FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament (WOQT) earlier this month in Nantes, France, Lara Sanders had one single goal in mind: to become an Olympian.
And she did it.
Turkey needed only three wins in as many games against Cameroon, Argentina, and Cuba to secure one of the five places at stake for the Rio Olympics, and Sanders not only felt a sense of accomplishment, but she has also set higher goals for her Olympic debut.
Immediately after Turkey booked a ticket to Rio, Sanders talked to FIBA.com.
"I just can't believe we made it," she said. "I am just happy the way we came in and competed in this tournament. We were focused from Day 1. We came here wanting to go to Rio in three games. We were focused and got the job done. Now, we need to get ready for Brazil."
A medal [in Rio] would be great. You don’t want to go there just to go on vacancies. You wanna be able to achieve the highest goal and the medal is that. - Sanders
Ever since Sanders made her debut with the Turkish national team two years ago, the the 1.91m center has been a major factor for Turkey.
At the Nantes WOQT, she superbly reminded everyone why she is one the players to look out for in Rio.
Sanders averaged team-highs of 16 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks per game and was perfect from the foul line, making all 10 of her free-throw attempts as Turkey are set for a second consecutive Olympic appearance.
When I am with Turkey, I am Turkish. I have been with them for the past couple of years, and I have been playing in Turkey for eight years now. I am Turkish. - Sanders
Sanders can't even stop dreaming big of the Rio Games.
"Turkey went to the London Olympics and they were so close to a medal game [Turkey finished fifth]. I think they want to do better than that," she said. "A medal [in Rio] would be great. You don't want to go there just to go on holiday. You want to be able to achieve the highest goal and the medal is that."
In order to earn a medal in Rio, Sanders and Turkey would potentially have to cross paths with the reigning World and Olympic Champions from the USA.
Born in Germany and raised in the US, Sanders moved to Turkey eight years ago and couldn't feel more Turkish.
"I've got Turkey on my chest," she said. "When I am playing, I am playing for Turkey. I can push all that [playing against the USA] aside. When I am with Turkey [national team], I am Turkish. I have been with them for the past couple of years, and I have been playing in Turkey for eight years now. I am Turkish."
Asked to describe the significance of becoming an Olympian as well as her expectations for Rio, Sanders looked emotional.
"Besides the experience, like the Opening Ceremony, having my husband and my mother there to also witness the Olympics feel... I am so excited for my team, but I am also excited for my family to also to witness something they never dreamt of witnessing."