Italy's 3x3 hero D'Alie is shooting for Olympic Gold

10 Jun 2021

DEBRECEN (Hungary) - Mesmerized by the Rio Olympics, Rae Lin D'Alie wrote in her journal a passionate note vowing to be at the Tokyo Games representing her beloved Italy at 3x3.

Five years later, with one ticket to Tokyo up for grabs at the Universality Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Hungary, the 5ft4in (1.63m) dynamo penned in her trusted journal the words 'today is the day' as all the blood, sweat and tears had come down to the event's finale.

"This has been a five-year journey," D’Alie said. "(The night before the game) I said for two hours straight - 'I am an Olympic athlete',

"Everything we had been through as a team and the world has been through with COVID-19… not knowing if we would make it to this day.

"And then we made it to this day."

D'Alie, who is one of the most beloved 3x3 players and affectionately known as 'Rae Rae', was confident ahead of the knockout stage and even forecasted that Italy would play host Hungary in the final.

After dominating the talented Netherlands with a game-high 8 points in the semi-finals, the 33-year-old's wish was granted but she knew this would be the toughest game of her life.

The experienced D’Alie had played in plenty of big games before and memorably led Italy to glory during an MVP run at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2018, where it almost seemed like she became the most popular athlete in the Philippines since Manny Pacquiao's heyday.

But this would be an entirely different challenge. The passionate Debrecen crowd – a full house of vaccinated fans in probably the best atmosphere seen in 3x3 since the pandemic - was obviously fully behind Hungary who boasted dynamic duo Cyesha Goree and Dora Medgyessy.

"I had a feeling we would see the home team in the final," D'Alie said. "I knew the challenge ahead of us and knew that it wasn't Manila and we wouldn't have the crowd."

True to her words, the final became a dogfight with little separating the two teams in a tense see-saw battle. At the worst possible moment, D'Alie couldn't get her spectacular game going. Her scintillating handles and drives down the lane like she's steering a Ferrari were absent in a cold-shooting performance.

Despite their leader's struggles, this gritty Italy team were determined to make up for their shock early exit at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Austria. They were relieved to have a second chance but knew there would be no tomorrow.

They managed to shut down the potent Hungary, who were reliant on Goree for buckets, but the game was more physically draining than the Mayweather-Paul fight. Italy were gassed with three minutes left but played with heart to lead 12-11 with 26 seconds left.

Hungary then took a timeout with the ball in hand.

"We got to the huddle and I said 'Girls are you ready? We are about to go to Tokyo. Play defense, get the ball and let's go'," D’Alie recalled.

But the brilliant Goree had other ideas as she hit a tough turnaround down low to level the scores and ensure the home fans partied like it was 1999.

Even though she had shot just 1-of-13, D'Alie knew the ball was going to be in her hands for the biggest play of her career.

"I'm thinking of the pick n' roll but they are giving me space to play one-on-one," she said. "I saw the clock was ticking down and I just pulled up."

This deserved a Hollywood ending but not even Aaron Sorkin could have written a better script. With no sign of nerves, an ice cool D'Alie drained the killer jumper with two seconds left to stun the home crowd like a pin had been inserted into a balloon.

"When it went in, I just thought don't let them take a two," she said.

A frantic Goree raced beyond the arc but couldn't get a two off in time as Italy's fairy tale came alive.

"When the buzzer went we were in a state of shock and weren't able to observe the joy of the moment," D’Alie said.

Even hours later, Italy's hero was beaming with pride. "I'm so proud of this team because we mentally came to play," she said.

"Our unity was our strength from the moment our preparation started. I've rarely experienced that emotional unity before."

It was an achievement to savor but the ultra-competitive D'Alie isn't merely satisfied with qualifying for Tokyo. She's aiming for the absolute pinnacle in sports - Olympic Gold.

"This was a huge step towards a dream but I don't want to go to the Olympics just to be there. I want to win," she said. "Now is the time to work hard and enjoy the ride.

"And do something more special."

FIBA