Women’s sports are steadily finding their place in Turkey, as sports like women’s basketball and volleyball are gradually coming up and into the limelight.
The most recent example is the women’s national basketball team qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2012 for the first time in history.
According to news reports in the Turkish press on Tuesday, the 12-person team has been finalized. The Fairies of the Net, as the team is affectionately referred to, include Netherlands-born point guard Esmeral Tunçluer and point guard Birsel Vardarlı, from Fenerbahçe, as well as point guard Nilay Kartaltepe of BOTAŞ Spor and free agent shooting guard Tuğba Palazoğlu.
There are also several players from Galatasaray Medical Park: Bulgaria-born power forward Nevriye Yılmaz, power forward Bahar Çağlar, point guard Işıl Alben and small forward Şaziye İvegin, in addition to center Yasemin Horasan of Beşiktaş Cola Turka, power forward Tuğçe Canıtez of Westmont University, forward Begüm Dalgalar of Tarsus Belediyesi and Turkish-American center Quanitra Hollingsworth, known as Kuanitra Holingsvorth in Turkey, from the NBA’s New York Liberty, all united under coach Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu.
Meanwhile, preparations for the elimination rounds of the Olympic Games will close with the International Preliminary Tournament, which will begin on Monday, June 25, and run until July 1 in Ankara. The girls, who this week defeated the British team in a warm-up match, have been hard at work in the Turkish capital preparing for the tournament, which is free for spectators.
Hard climb to the top
However, according to Palazoğlu, the team has been preparing for this tournament and ultimately the Olympics, which will open in London on July 27, for much longer. “We have been thinking about the tournament ahead of us for an entire year. For this reason we are very ready and motivated,” she explained recently. “We think we deserve this and because of this we are going to do whatever we can [to win],” the 31-year-old former Galatasaray player added. Yıldızoğlu cautioned that it would be a difficult climb to the top for his team, given their newfound attention in the international arena. “Because we have managed this success, all of our opponents are playing with extraordinary concentration in matches where they used to come out less focused,” the coach, who also trains the girls at Galatasaray, explained.
“There is very little time before the actual games,” said captain Nevriye Yılmaz, who recently moved from Fenerbahçe to archrival Medical Park Galatasaray. “During the Preliminary Tournament we will see which areas we are lacking in, work according to that and prepare ourselves for the matches we are aiming for,” she said, confidently explaining her team’s plan of attack.
The main concern the team has now is their lack of experience in such massive competitions. They may be riding high on excitement, but many of their competitors will be much more experienced at this level. “They want to go to the Olympics just as much as we do. For this reason it will be truly difficult, but we fully believe that we will succeed with the support of the fans in Ankara,” Palazoğlu said. “There is a big possibility that another team in our group will be the Czech Republic. We certainly don’t want to face them because they are a very experienced team,” said coach Yıldızoğlu, also voicing the pitfalls of pushing into uncharted territory. He is, however, cautiously optimistic. “For us the important thing is our own condition, because when our team is in healthy condition with a high level of concentration we can play with any team. We saw this at the last European Championships,” he went on to say, projecting confidence in his Fairies, who reached the semifinals of EuroBasket 2011.
That EuroBasket was a high point for the Turkish women, who had previously entered the competition three times -- all very recently, in 2005, 2007 and 2009 -- as it was the first time they walked away with a medal, losing to Russia in the championship match. They are also set to attend EuroBasket 2013 in France.
The Fairies have seen slightly more success in the Mediterranean Games, which they have attended four times as well, taking home silvers in 1987 and 1997 and a gold medal in 2005, before placing fifth in 2009. They are qualified for the next edition, which will be held on their home turf in Turkey in 2013. In another exciting first for Turkey, the girls have qualified for the 2014 FIBA World Championships.
As evidenced by this success, Turkish sports have certainly come a long way since the women’s national team first joined the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) way back in 1938. One factor inspiring Turkey’s female basketball players may be the recent success of other teams -- last year the men’s national team placed second at the Worlds. Then there is the women’s volleyball team’s qualification for the upcoming Olympics, which Palazoğlu recently referred to, saying: “They truly achieved a first for Turkey. We want to follow in their footsteps.”