RIO DE JANEIRO -- Competing against the United States women's basketball team at the Olympics is like trying to outswim Michael Phelps while wearing work boots and a tool belt and towing a keg of beer.
"At the beginning, it's scary,'' Spain's Laia Palau said. "You know you will have to have a really good game to stay with them. They do everything pretty well. It's hard to scout them. But I think we were really motivated to play this game. It's a chance to improve and get better. I take it as a positive.''
Mind you, Palau said that after Spain lost 103-63 to the U.S. on Monday. That she took a 40-point loss as a positive just goes to show you how challenging it is to take the basketball court against the American women. Hey, Senegal lost to the U.S. by 65 points in the Olympic opener Saturday.
Monday's victory was the 43rd consecutive for the U.S. women at the Olympics, where they haven't lost since 1992 in Barcelona. That was so long ago that 35-year-old team captain and four-time Olympian Sue Bird says she doesn't even remember it.
During that 43-win span, the U.S. has defeated 22 nations, ranging from A (Australia) to Z (Zaire), outscoring them by 1,277 combined points for an average victory margin of 30 points. China probably has suffered the most at the hands of America -- losing three times by an average deficit of 45 points.
What must it be like to face such a dominating opponent?
"We don't talk about that as coaches because we're always fixated on what they're going to do,'' U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "'How are we going to stop them? How are we going to guard them?' We're obsessed with that. And then when somebody brings up [how the other team feels], you kind of step back and say, 'Yeah, well, how are they going to guard us? They have to handle us.'
"We're not easy to deal with, obviously.''
Can anyone ever beat the American women? Maybe. After all, the U.S. men lost three times at the 2004 Olympics, even with LeBron James and Tim Duncan on the roster. The beauty of sport is you never know what will happen.
"I think it's possible,'' Spain's Laura Nicholls said. "OK, it's really, really difficult, but in one game you can do it. Maybe our team could have more options because physically we are not on that level. One day our shooting percentage would have to be 75 percent on 3-pointers and everything else. Because they score a lot. Every second is difficult to get to them. But it's not impossible.''
Right. It could happen. After all, the Cubs could win the World Series.
"You go to the games thinking, 'Maybe today could be the day you can beat them,' because it's not impossible,'' Nicholls said. "You just have to have a wonderful game on your side and they have to be, I don't know, maybe a little sick. One day it could happen. Maybe one day they will be in trouble. I'm not saying Spain. Maybe France.''
While the American women haven't lost in the Olympics in 24 years, they lost the FIBA world championship to Russia in 2006.
"That memory motivates us, propels us. We never want to relive [that] again,'' Bird said. "It's probably the best thing that could happen to us, to be honest. Look at how we played in 2008. We were all business in that tournament. And we are here, too.''
In other words, that loss just made it more difficult to beat the U.S.
Having played at UConn and having won three gold medals in the Olympics and two WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm, Bird hasn't played on a lot of underdog teams in her career apart from some recent WNBA seasons when her team has struggled.
"So I do have an awareness of what it's like to feel that no matter what you do, you don't have a chance. It's not a good feeling,'' Bird said. "But on the other hand, there is that opportunity to upset, that opportunity to make history that I'm sure is in the back of all their minds. And that's what we're guarding against.
"Would I want to be in their shoes? Probably not, but they're trying to make history by beating us.''
Just don't expect anyone to make that history anytime soon.