Golden era ends fittingly for U.S. women

Women's Soccer

Athens Olympics

Prime time tonight: Track and field, diving, synchronized swimming. Chs. 11, 4 at 8 p.m.

August 27, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

ATHENS - Over the past 13 years, they talked about team, about being teammates.

The members of the U.S. women's soccer team talked about little kids who needed strong female role models - female athletes to look up to, to emulate.

They talked about nail polish, how they would sit up all night, painting stars and stripes on each other's toenails and who got to choose the color for next time.

They giggled when they talked about Julie Foudy's hairdo on some publicity photo, wondering why it was poofy.

They took a picture of Foudy and her hairdo, made T-shirts, showed up at a team photo shoot and, surprise, made Foudy laugh hysterically when they opened their warm-up jackets and inside, they were wearing those silly shirts.

They talked to reporters.

Anywhere.

All the time.

They teased each other, praised each other, pushed each other, cared.

They called Brandi Chastain "Hollywood" because she never met a camera she didn't like.

They call each other "The '91ers" because they've been playing together all these years.

They talked about Title IX, imploring the president of the United States to leave it alone and extolling the effect it has had on opportunities for female athletes.

Look at us. Watch us. We're really just the start. There's more to do.

They talked about sweatshops in underdeveloped countries and how they needed to see for themselves where the equipment they used was coming from.

They talked about the trips to Haiti, where there was no electricity so they studied college books by candlelight; where there was no water, so they jumped in the pool for something like a bath.

They hung around together, off the field, playing golf, going to movies, grocery shopping, buying each other their favorite snacks. Cookies for Foudy. M&M's and Skittles.

They talked about the U.S. men in supportive fashion when the guys finished last in the 1998 World Cup. They never gloated, even though everyone knew that it was them, the U.S. women, who were a better team - not to mention the real face of soccer in America.

They played for three different coaches, winning Olympic medals and World Cups for all of them.

They saw old players retire and young ones come up through the pipeline. Michelle Akers, Tisha Venturini, Shannon MacMillan and Tiffeny Milbrett are gone, not forgotten. Some other players challenged them but couldn't quite stick around.

See, there is so much rich history with these gold medalists, these World Cup champs, it's hard to say goodbye.

It's tough to watch a dynasty stand at the brink of being dismantled, even when the reasons for calling it quits are sound, good, smart.

Mia Hamm's body hurts. She wants to go home - to Chicago, to her new husband, to see her family and friends and be there for them. How many more times can she be tackled, twisted, kicked or held?

Foudy sounded unusually subdued, which seemed impossible, considering her usual hyper energy, her drive and her mouth.

It's the end of an era - and it was a flood of memories and emotions that came with the awarding of the gold medal.

"We're a big family. We thanked each other. Laughed. Cried. We are so happy to bring back the gold medal to the USA," said Briana Scurry, the goalkeeper who says she'll join "The Original Five" and head off into the sunset.

No more World Cups or Olympics with a U.S. team that doubles as a dynasty.

Think of the women's soccer team over the past 13 years and you might as well think of the New York Yankees or Montreal Canadiens.

Even so, it is time.

Last night, fast and furious Brazil was better than the United States, but unlucky. The Brazilians showed the U.S. women that it's probably a good idea: time to move forward and hope the talent and the team values and the commitment will be there, the way it has been for 13 years.

Fresh legs can't replace the pioneers who crafted one of the best teams that ever competed in the United States or for the United States, but neither can thirtysomething stalwarts continue on - not when kids, partners, parents and the future call them.

The minds have been willing to push toward this Olympic goal, but the bodies can't soldier on. And, in some cases, the minds of these U.S. soccer stars are tired, too.

What they have done over the past 13 years, Chastain, Foudy, Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett.

These "Original Five" from the 1991 U.S. national team aren't just the link to the origins of one of the greatest sports legacies in U.S. history, but they are also the will, the wherewithal, the talent, the brains, the brawn, the good looks and great personalities.

As hyperbolic as this sounds, these women together bore out all the values and virtues of being a team.

What a collection of athletes.

What amazing things they accomplished in their time together.

The U.S. women's national soccer program needed every ounce of sweat, every drop of blood and every sprained ankle that these five women had.

Maybe it was something in the food former coach Anson Dorrance served them back when he first brought these players together.

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