KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic -- Sue Bird handed the world championship trophy to Tamika Catchings and the two embraced, sharing a large grin.
The only blemish on their distinguished U.S. basketball career was now gone after an 89-69 victory over the Czech Republic in the women's basketball title game Sunday night.
It was one sweet win for Bird, Catchings, and Diana Taurasi, who were on the U.S. team that finished a disappointing third in the 2006 worlds.
The three were determined not to let that happen again.
"There's definitely a feeling of satisfaction, redemption," Bird said. "It was tough losing in Brazil, it was very difficult. We were definitely on a mission. It started in the Olympics, that's what fueled us then, but this being the same tournament we lost in, we wanted to get that gold back."
Angel McCoughtry scored 18 points, Taurasi added 16, and Bird had 11 for the Americans, who now have won the world championship eight times -- the previous time being Catchings' first in 2002.
"This one was definitely sweeter," Catchings said. "Knowing what we went through in 2006 to erase that made this special."
To win the gold, in a similar situation to the men's team that won in Turkey, the U.S. had to get past the host nation in the final.
The Czechs celebrated their second-place finish as if they won. They danced and sprayed champagne after the medal ceremony to the delight of the sold-out crowd of 6,024, which included President Vaclav Klaus.
"This medal is a great success for us," coach Lubor Blazek said through a translator. "We're happy that we managed to return Czech women's basketball to this level."
Spain also was elated after it beat Belarus 77-68 for the bronze, earning its first medal at the women's worlds.
This was the first time that the Czechs had advanced to the medal round since dissolving from Slovakia in 1993. The former Czechoslovakia won two silver medals and four bronzes from 1953-1975.
"Before this tournament no one would think we'd be among the best four teams," tournament MVP Hana Horakova said. "Definitely not speaking about world championship medals. This is the celebration it deserves and definitely will go on tonight."
The Czechs gave their fans a lot to cheer about early on. The whistling and horns were so loud when U.S. players were introduced it was hard to make out the names. There were more whistles every time the Americans had the ball in the early going. When Katerina Elhotova hit a 3-pointer to cut the U.S. lead to 10-9, the noise was almost deafening.
Every time the U.S. tried to pull away in the first half the Czechs had an answer. The Americans built a 40-28 advantage with 2:09 left but the Czechs scored the final seven points to get within five at the break.
It was the closest any team had been to the U.S. at the half during the entire tournament.
A layup by Tereza Peckova cut the Czechs deficit to 40-37, but that was as close as they would get.
"We couldn't stop them in the first half and they couldn't stop us," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "We knew we'd make a run eventually."
Taurasi hit a 3-pointer and Bird a layup to make it an eight-point game. A jumper by Petra Kulichova cut it back to six before Taurasi's 3-pointer ignited a 10-0 run. Back-to-back steals by Bird and Catchings led to lay-ins and forced the Czechs to call timeout trailing 55-39.
The U.S. led by 22 at the end of the third quarter and the Czechs could only get within 17 in the fourth.
Kulichova scored 14 points and Horakova added 12 for the Czechs, who were running on fumes after beating defending champion Australia in the quarterfinals and topping Belarus in overtime to reach the gold-medal game.
"I can't tell you have impressed I am with their coach and his style of play," Auriemma said. "That was the best team we played in the entire tournament without question. We're fortunate to be world champions.
"My players worked really hard to do it here, against the Czech national team in front of an unbelievable crowd. It makes this win even more rewarding because of who we had to beat and where we had to beat them."
Eva Viteckova, who came in averaging a Czech-best 17.6 points, was held to seven.
The U.S. has only lost once when it reached the gold-medal game, back in 1983 when it fell to the Soviet Union. With Sunday's victory, Swin Cash and Taurasi became the fifth and sixth players to win an NCAA, WNBA, Olympic, and world championship. They joined Bird, Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Kara Wolters.
Candice Dupree finished the tournament shooting an American-record 75 percent from the field, breaking Dawn Staley's mark of 69 percent set in 1994.