The August 16, 2016, on Rio de Janeiro, the Spanish women’s basketball team broke a glass ceiling. A basket on the run of Anna Cruz half a second from the end against Turkey supposed the 62-64 that led Spain to the fight for the medals for the first time. The protagonist of that moment remembers with EFE that silver that “tasted like gold.”
“It was a silver that tasted like gold to all of us, because we were not going with that mentality at all. You always go with the intention of podIo, but you know that in the Olympic Games things get complicated. We would have all signed it by now. That money is kept as the greatest treasure of our sports career “, recalls Anna Cruz.
Cruz (Barcelona, 1986), a Casademont Zaragoza player who left the national team with eight medals in his record in January, will always have a place in the history of Spanish basketball for that agonizing basket against Turkey that opened the doors of Olympus to them.
“It seemed that we had the game under control and in the end, for a couple of silly losses and with 4 seconds to go, I caught the ball and all I could do was run and shoot from where I could. In those moments you don’t think. Even seeing the repetition of the play, I see that the ball slips a bit from me. You’re lucky, the ball goes in and that’s it, “reveals the architect of that historic basket.
With that basket, Spain definitively turned around a “very tough” quarter-final duel in which Turkey had taken the initiative. “In recent years we had always won them and we thought ‘how can this happen to us now, in this important event'”, he recalls.
The victory not only gave them access to fight for the medals for the first time in the history of Spanish women’s basketball, but also freed them from pressure.
“If we lost the rooms we would return after two days and if we passed we would stay until the end. We said to ourselves: since we have gone through this, for all, that no one take the medal from us, least of all Serbia, with whom there has always been a special rivalry, “he explains about his rival in the semifinals, in which they won 68- 54.
Against the United States, a record-setting team that has not dropped from first place on the podium since Atlanta 1996 and has not lost an Olympic match since the Barcelona 1992 semifinals, the Spanish knew the difference was abysmal (101-72). “We went out as always to fight, to give everything and as far as we could go. We competed well until the middle part, and in the end they left us, because both physically and for talent they are above,” he points out.
Silver was the icing on the cake for a team that had “really wanted” to be in Rio 2016, after missing the previous Olympic event in London for tenth place in the 2011 Eurobasket in Poland.
“We had been doing well for a few years, it was something the team deserved, play some Games. None of us thought we were going to make money, simply living them was a prize “, Cruz reaffirms, who on a personal level remembers being” in shock “during his first week at the Olympic Village in a Games that he lived” 100% “, including the Organizational chaos when going to watch other sports. “We went to see a rugby match at 7 and were unable to return to the Villa. There are a lot of anecdotes, some that cannot be told, “he jokes.
The normalization of success and goodbye to selection
Anna Cruz is part of a group of players that has led the Spanish team to chain seven consecutive tournaments without getting off the podium between Europeans, World Cups and Games. “PIt seems that we have normalized it, but the truth is that those who were and those who are know how difficult it is to get a medal, how much it costs and how expensive they are, “says the Barcelona woman.
More than a decade and eight medals later, the forward announced in this month of January that she was leaving the team in a public letter on social networks where she demanded “respect and dignity.”
“There are many things, a cluster, there is always something that makes it detonate and it is like the last straw. I decided that I did not want to put up with those kinds of feelings anymore and put my mental health first, to leave the national team, which is something that I have always been passionate about, and to put myself before myself. Stop fulfilling my sports dreams to have a little peace and health “, explains Anna Cruz.
The proximity of this difficult decision causes it to be difficult for him to see the games of those who were his companions. “I am not following him much because I would like to be there and I cannot. It is even difficult for me to speak in the past tense. Inevitably through social networks you find out everything, but I prefer not to expose myself “, values the player, who still believes that the Spanish will come out” stronger and reinforced “from the disappointment of the Eurobasket, in which Spain finished seventh after the defeat in quarterfinals against Serbia, who finished as champions.
The WNBA, Russia and Laia Palau as a reference
Anna Cruz is part of a generation that has made it common to see Spanish women competing in the best teams in the world. Between 2013 and 2019 he passed through the Russian Orenburg and Kursk and the Turkish Fenerbahce; and he played three seasons in the WNBA between 2014 and 2016, winning the title in 2015 with the Minnesota Lynx.
“It took me a while to get out of Spain. I left with 26, I needed a change and I did not care if it was next or far. Russia left, the first two weeks were hard, but I decided that I did not want to live attached to my cell phone and I tried to be one more, relate to the companions and live to the fullest. I was going for a year and I stayed for six, “he says.
With that same approach, from less to more, it was his experience in the best league in the world, the American one. “I went to a ‘Training Camp’ without high expectations, a suitcase to return in two weeks, and look. It was all shot in New York, I was a starter in all the games, I played many minutes and had much more prominence than expected. My three years in the WNBA were a reward for the work I have done throughout my career, “he reflects.
Performances like yours open the doors to more European players. “Being on the track is very complicated, especially because there was a culture that was a bit closed to Europeans. Now they are opening the doors, at first it was very American, “he explains.
Among them, the young 19-year-old Spanish pivot Rachel Carrera has been selected this year in fifteenth place by Atlanta Dream, the highest position of a Spanish player in history. “I would tell him to enjoy and let himself go, that nerves cannot. This is a prize, if you are nervous they can play a bad move on you and not show what you are. If it has to be, it will be, “he advises.
The latest successes of the national team have had the effect of generating references for the girls who are now interested in the orange ball and the basket. For Anna Cruz, the example was always close: Laia Palau, the eternal captain of the selection with which he shared a club in the beginning, the Universitari de Barcelona.
“I have always had a very clear reference that has been Laia Palau. We played for the same club, I remember seeing the senior team and telling my mother that I wanted to look like her and play like her. Now we are more accessible to everyone, we have more media coverage, the youth can see us more, but before it was a little more complicated, Either you were very involved or it was difficult to have an idol that was not masculine, because the feminine one has always been a little step behind“reflects Anna Cruz, who places her future beyond the fields in communication, a field in which she has a degree in Audiovisual Communication and has postgraduate studies.
A future that will have to wait, as a new campaign is ahead in the Casademont Zaragoza, after a year of injuries.