She is the female version of Pele, proclaimed by a Playboy magazine cover in Brazil as “Our Queen, Hortencia.”
Hortencia Marcari Oliva, star of the Brazilian women’s basketball team readying a run at the favored Americans, is very big in her homeland.
“She is the spirit of Brazilian basketball,” said 17-year-old fan Felix Elias Neto. “She is like Michael Jordan, but pretty.”
Hortencia is the biggest star in her sport, if not the tallest. That distinction goes to Zheng Haixia, China’s 6-foot-8, 253-pound center.
“It’s tough and frustrating to play her. There’s only so much you can do,” said Diane Norman, 6-foot forward for Canada, after Zheng had 19 points and 16 rebounds in China’s 61-49 victory Thursday night. “But she’s really a nice person. After she knocks you down, she’s the first one to go help you up.”
China plays Brazil today, while the U.S. women (3-0) face their toughest game yet against unbeaten Australia. The Americans played Thursday before a Georgia Dome crowd of 31,230, the largest ever for women’s basketball.
Brazil, whose 100-80 victory over Japan followed an 82-68 defeat of Russia, leads its pool at 3-0. China (1-2) trails Brazil and Russia.
Oliva, 36, is doubtful for today. She twisted an ankle early in the Japan game and probably will concentrate on recuperating for medal play.
Almost exactly eight years after she posed in a 10-page layout for the Brazilian Playboy, she gave birth last February to her first child, a son.
“I didn’t intend to play again,” she said. “But when I started feeling all the Olympic atmosphere, the Olympic spirit moved me back to the team.”
In other sports, Jackie Joyner-Kersee begins the heptathlon, and gold medals will be decided in the men’s and women’s 100 meters, men’s triple jump and women’s javelin.
At Stone Mountain, top-seeded Monica Seles faces 13th-seeded Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, coming back after a 3-1/2-month layoff because of a strained stomach muscle, in third-round tennis.
On Lake Lanier, Britain’s Steven Redgrave seeks to make rowing history with his fourth gold medal in four Olympics when he and Matthew Pinsent compete in coxless pairs.
And down at landlocked Atlanta Beach, the bronzed bombers compete in the women’s finals and men’s semifinals of beach volleyball.