The girls of summer

Soccer: World Cup a small step for woman, but a giant kick for nation's sport.

July 13, 1999

THE U.S. conquest of China for the Women's World Cup of soccer gave Americans their greatest thrill in a team they knew little about since the unheralded men's hockey team won the 1980 winter Olympics.

It was a watershed in the nation's social history. Sport will never be quite the same.

With 90,185 screaming fans in the Rose Bowl and 40 million watching on television in this nation (and untold millions at 4 a.m. in China), this was the most-watched soccer game and most-watched women's athletic competition in U.S. history. Let no one say again that a scoreless tie for 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime must be boring.

It was a vindication of Title IX, which created the college women's teams that trained these athletes. It gives a boost to all women's team sports. Its capture of the imagination of young girls is welcome to many parents who find soccer an altogether more suitable enthusiasm for their daughters than the more expensive and exotic figure skating and gymnastics.

It does wonders for soccer, which has taken over as a participatory sport for boys in this country, while struggling to catch on as spectator sport.

Beyond that, this World Cup provided, as great sport sometimes does, inspiring lessons in the human spirit. When great defense shut down Mia Hamm and her Chinese rivals, team members Kristine Lilly, Briana Scurry and Brandi Chastain came through . The ultimate achiever, though, was Michelle Akers.

The 33-year-old midfielder's combative offense and defense kept the United States in contention until she collapsed at the end of regulation play. This team leader suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and goes from some games straight to the hospital. Hers was the guttiest performance by a U.S. athlete so far this year.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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