Associated Press Sports
updated 7/1/2008 5:32:40 PM ET 2008-07-01T21:32:40

Spain began its preparations for the Olympic Games on Tuesday and immediately gave the U.S. the tag of pre-tournament favorite despite an eight-year drought at major championships.

The U.S. team boasts a roster of NBA All-Stars including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Dwayne Wade. But American players have failed to capitalize on its talent since the 2000 Sydney Games - its last gold medal-winning performance.

"Kobe Bryant has told me that he wants to win the gold as much as I do,'' Spain center Pau Gasol said. "I think his team can fight for the gold, but we'll prepare to arrive there strong and we'll see what happens.''

Spain believes the Americans have learned from their disappointment, which include a bronze medal at the Athens Games four years ago.

"With Mike D'Antoni in the coaching team they can overcome the problems of past championships because he is a trainer who has been in Europe,'' coach Aitor Garcia Reneses said. "A lot of times you got the feeling that they didn't know more than the basketball that they practiced in their own country.''

The 15 players gathered in the Spanish capital to start five weeks of preparations for the Aug. 8-25 Games in Beijing, where the Iberians will go in as one of the favorites alongside the Americans, European champion Russia and defending champion Argentina.

Los Angeles Lakers center Gasol nearly added an NBA title to his resume last month but lost to the Boston Celtics in the finals. The 27-year-old center is still feeling the effects of his longest season in a seven-year NBA career and will be given a few extra days rest.

"It's been a long season. I've never had to go so long and the truth is you feel it,'' Gasol said.

Spain plays warmup matches against Croatia, Portugal and Argentina in the coming weeks. It also will face Russia on July 20 for the first time since losing the Eurobasket final on home soil in September.

Former Toronto Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa, who had surgery on his left leg and ankle in December, expects to be fully healed and available to the team in time for the Olympics.

"I've come in training for a number of days with the maximum intensity. I don't have physical problems,'' he said.

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