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Opals in the mood for medal

LAUREN Jackson has brushed aside claims the US would only face tough competition at next month's Olympics if it fielded a second team, declaring the Opals were aiming to achieve ''exceptional things'' in London.

US point guard Sue Bird, Jackson's best friend and a teammate on the WNBA's Seattle Storm, last month highlighted the confidence in her camp when she told the ESPN-backed ''The US, we could probably have a second national team and they would probably be our toughest competition,'' she said.

''I mean no disrespect with that. It just speaks to the level of talent and the volume of talent that the US has.''

Australia has been denied gold by the US in the past three Olympics, something Jackson and point guard Kristi Harrower, both preparing for their fourth Games, are well aware of.

Bird's comments have been noted in the Opals camp, but Jackson, speaking after the Opals' Olympic squad was announced yesterday, said she had not discussed them with her good friend.

''I don't really care, it's just banter. We are just going to go out there and do our best,'' Jackson said.


''That's all we have ever done … and have no regrets at the end of it.

''Sue is my best friend, I don't know, maybe they [the comments] were taken out of context. Maybe she really thinks that.

''I have said that in the media before - that America could probably take their A, B and C team and get gold, silver and bronze. But, you know, who knows?

''I think that we have a very good team and I think that we have a chance of doing something special. Sue B may think that sort of is the way it's going to go down.''

Australia and its long-time nemesis are grouped in different pools, and may only meet again in a gold-medal play-off. The Opals must first negotiate the preliminary rounds against several strong nations, including Russia, Brazil and Britain, the latter first on the schedule and coached by a familiar face in Tom Maher.

''We have a long road ahead just to get to that gold-medal game, so we are not focusing too much on that,'' Jackson said.

''We have come so close so many times. We want to do exceptional things.

''There is nothing that I would want more than to bring home the gold but it's a long road ahead. Who knows what may happen on the day - the stars may align.''

This looms as the last Olympics for the 31-year-old, and she has been buoyed by the Opals' improving performances on their tour of Europe which ended this week.

The Opals finished with a 3-2 record, having played the Czech Republic, Hungary and Turkey and Russia twice.

The trip was also used to begin afresh without the injured Penny Taylor.

Dandenong Rangers star Jenna O'Hea was one to impress on her return from injury. Jackson's ''Twin Towers'' teammate Elizabeth Cambage was another to fortify the team's belief.

''We are getting better. It's pretty awesome to see the chemistry come together and things like that,'' Jackson said.

The focus now turns to the three-match series against a full-strength Brazilian side, beginning tomorrow at Hisense Arena. The visitors are ranked sixth in the world and boast WNBA star Erika De Souza.

OPALS SQUAD: Lauren Jackson, Kristi Harrower, Belinda Snell, Jennifer Screen, Samantha Richards, Rachel Jarry, Kathleen Macleod, Elizabeth Cambage, Jenna O'Hea, Abby Bishop, Suzy Batkovic and Laura Hodges.