TORONTO (FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women) - One of the most important months in the career of Canada's Kim Smith has arrived.

A tireless worker and veteran in her national team, Smith has played at FIBA World Championships and FIBA Americas Championships.

What she has yet to do, however, is fulfill a lifelong dream and compete at an 
Olympic Games.

In 2003, Canada suffered a 71-65 defeat to Brazil in the Semi-Finals of the PanAmerican Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women in Culiacan, Mexico, and settled for third place.

Only gold-medal winners Brazil and defending world champions Team USA represented the Americas at the Athens Games.

Then in 2007 at the FIBA Americas Championship in Valdivia, Chile, Canada came in a disappointing fifth out of eight teams and missed the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women (OQTW) in Madrid.

“I thought we were going to Athens, thought we would play in Beijing,” Smith said. 

“It’s one of the most heart-wrenching experiences, too, as an athlete to miss out and not qualify, it’s really hard to describe the devastation that goes through you, that really lasts for a few months.”

Canada, after playing at the FIBA World Championship in the Czech Republic and building on that experience by capturing a bronze medal at last year's FIBA Americas Championship in Neiva, Colombia, have a good chance in front of them to reach the London Games.

They will be play at the OQTW in Ankara, Turkey (25 June-1 July) and go after one of the five spots on still on offer for the Olympics.

Last summer’s heart-breaker

Canada very nearly reached the Final of last year's FIBA Americas Championship in Colombia, which would have allowed them to play Brazil for the direct qualifying berth to London.

Instead, they went down in an agonizing Semi-Final defeat to Argentina.

With their game knotted at 59-59 and just seven seconds remaining, Canada were preparing to launch the last shot of regulation when Marina Cava came up with the biggest play in Argentinian women’s basketball history.

Cava knocked the ball out of Shona Thorburn’s hands, dribbled down the floor and made a lay-up for the go-ahead basket.

The Canadians inbounded the ball to Thorburn who crossed midcourt and put up a running, two-handed jumper but her attempt only drew iron as Argentina won the game.

Smith had eight points in that game, and then 13 in the bronze-medal triumph over Cuba.

At the OQTW in Turkey, there will be no givens.

Canada must take on France and Mali in Group D and win one of those games to advance to the Quarter-Finals where they would then go up against Croatia, Korea or Mozambique.

A loss in that third game would force Canada to battle it out with the other Quarter-Final losers for the fifth and final place for London.

“I thought I was going to play in four Olympics,” Smith said to the Toronto star.

“It’s kind of like once you start getting older — we missed out on two, this will be my third try — it’s like ‘will your body be able to let you go another four years.’ 

"You don’t know, this could be your only shot at an Olympics, and when you’re young you never feel like that. 

"And so I’m trying to convey that message.”

Canada have injected some quality into the side for this summer.

Nineteen-year-olds Natalie Achonwa and Michelle Plouffe will play in Ankara.

Achonwa made her senior team debut at the 2010 FIBA World Championship but missed last year's FIBA Americas Championship while taking classes during the summer at Notre Dame University.

Plouffe, a 1.91m center who plays American college basketball for the Utah Utes, averaged 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds at last year's FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Chile where the Canadians came in fifth.

Article courtesy of FIBA