It might be smart for Mia Hamm, considered the best female soccer player in history, to limit the intake of liquids on Thursday while watching the U.S. women's soccer team play Japan for the Olympic gold medal.
On Monday, when the United States beat Canada in extra time in the semifinals, Hamm -- who won gold medals in 1996 and 2004 and also World Cup crowns in 1991 and 1999 -- said, "I think I went to the bathroom 10 times."
"It was a pretty intense game. I'm glad to say I didn't bite my nails because I wouldn't have any left," said Hamm, who retired in 2004 to start a family with husband Nomar Garciaparra, a former baseball player who now is a broadcaster for ESPN. "I think I also pulled a muscle trying to kick in the goal for them."
Hamm has lived a quiet existence since leaving the game. She spends most of her time with her husband and three children. She also does a lot of charity work for her foundation and acting as a spokeswoman for products such as Breathe Performance Bedding.
How would you coach the U.S. women to keep their composure against Japan?
“They have to keep their emotions in check and still play with emotion. You have to follow the game plan. That is how you focus as an athlete. You have to keep things simple. They need to show their commitment. The game itself is a series of peaks and valleys. You try to ride the wave of positive emotion as much as you can. And you try to make your opponent’s waves as short as possible.”
What did you think of the Hope Solo controversial Twitter comments against broadcaster and former player Brandi Chastain?
“Brandi is trying to be the best she can. She loves the game of soccer. Out of anyone I played with, she was the soccer nut, the soccer junkie. That is Brandi. She is doing the best job she can, in terms of researching her game film and trying to improve the product she’s putting out there. In regards to Hope, if I were here teammate, I would say, ‘Hope, listen, we’re in such a great place. Let’s put the focus on this game.’ What disappoints me the most is people on the outside back here giving her that information [about Chastain's critical comments on the U.S. defense]. If I’m Hope, that doesn’t really help. She needs to stay focused. Hope is such an important part of the team. As a teammate, I would put my arm around her and say, ‘You’re the best goalkeeper in the world. And for us to win, we need you right here and right now.’ I think she understands that now.”
Why do you think we love watching Olympic soccer and World Cup soccer but struggle to keep women's leagues alive in the United States?
“I wish I knew. We have young girls and teenagers playing by the millions. And we have one of the best women’s national teams in the world. And we have a great collegiate club system in our country. With the WUSA (now-defunct Women's United Soccer Association) and the WPS (now-defunct Women's Pro Soccer), you had international players who were wanting to come over here and play. I’m still trying to understand why we can’t keep them alive. I wish there was a solution. The players want it. The environment is right. I’ve love to see something come back. But in the near future, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
People miss seeing you around on TV or in person at major women's soccer events. Do you miss being in the public eye?
“I don’t know. If there were attributes that announcer/former player Julie Foudy, who works for [ESPN], has that I could bring into my own life, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I have to be me. As a player, I tried to lead like her. I failed miserably. People just didn’t respond to me that way. Can I be the same boisterous personality that Julie is? Probably not. I’m a little more monotone. I have a dry sense of humor."
So do you think you'll be back to do more TV work?
"I love being part of the sport. I did work with ESPN during Women’s World Cup last summer, and I loved that. That was fun. I love this game. It has given me so much. Along with one son, I have two daughters. Sports is so important for young girls' lives. Sharing those experiences with them is cool. But I love being a mom. The fact that I’m here is important to me.”