Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Updated: August 21, 10:56 AM ET
Hamm ponders life after soccer
THESSALONIKI, Greece -- It was a classic Olympic moment. A
Greek journalist, meeting Mia Hamm for the first time, asked if she
felt like a star.
After a laugh, a shake of the head, and probably too much
thought, Hamm did her best to answer. "I think I'm recognizable,''
she said slowly.
She cited the U.S. team's success for raising her public
profile, then looked at the journalist. "I probably would be more
recognizable than you,'' she offered good-naturedly.
The exchange, in the casual setting of the athlete's hotel
lobby, was the catalyst for an introspective conversation with the
world's most famous women's soccer player. Hamm offered her
thoughts on fame and life after international soccer, a life that
begins after these Olympics.
Hamm's last U.S. game could come as early as Friday, when the
Americans play Japan in the quarterfinals. It will be her 264th
appearance, and she'll be looking to add to her world-record tally
of 153 goals.
Why quit now?
"I'm old,'' Hamm, 32, said with a smile.
She then repeated most of the reasons she's given before: it's
the right time, soccer is no longer the be-all and end-all of her
life, it's three years until the next World Cup and she wants to
leave at the top of her game.
"There are moments I'm sure in your life where you've been in a
certain environment, whether it's work or in college, and you're
just like, 'Gosh, I need to move on.' And that's where I am,'' Hamm
What will she do now?
"I don't know,'' she answered quickly, flashing a huge smile.
"Isn't that great? The fact that no one has to tell me that I have
to eat at 9 and 1 and 6:30 anymore is OK. I mean, I'm not
frightened. Are you frightened about the fact that I don't know
what I'm going to do?''
After a lifetime in the sport, Hamm said she was unsure if she
would stay in soccer, perhaps as a coach.
"I don't know. Once I'm done, I'm going to see what happens,''
Hamm said. "Some people might have their lives planned out. We
hear about young kids, when they're younger they want to go to this
college and become a doctor. I've really lived day-to-day, and it's
not something I'm spending a lot of time on.
"Maybe after the new year, I'll think about what's there.''
Hamm planned to do whatever possible to revive the WUSA and
didn't rule out returning to play in the league, but it's clear
that's not her top priority.
"Right now I have a husband and a family I'd love to spend time
with,'' Hamm said. "And I have the ability to do that. I've been,
for the past 17 wonderful years, seeing my family for maybe a month
out of the year. I have sisters who are having kids, and I want to
participate in their lives rather than them saying, 'I saw you on
The husband is Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and
their courtship and marriage last year brought back the famous
smile that was too often missing a few years back. Hamm now wants
to start her own family.
"There's no set date as to when that's going to happen,'' she
said with a nervous chuckle.
Hamm never appeared at ease discussing personal matters, and she
gently chided reporters for showing more interest in her private
life than the upcoming game. She enjoys the anonymity of traveling
abroad, and accepts her life as a celebrity in the United States.
"The uneasiness probably I have with it is that people expect
you to be so different from them,'' Hamm said. "And you almost
feel like you let them down when you're not. I get this all the
time: 'What are you doing at the grocery store?' Well, you buy
food, right? I'm like, 'Should I not be here?' "
The interview ended with Hamm saying it would "unbelievable''
to win a second gold medal, but there was a unique postscript. FIFA
president Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in world soccer,
walked up to Hamm as she was about to leave.
They greeted each other European-style, with three kisses on the
"I'll see you at the final," Blatterer said.
"We're going to try,'' Hamm replied.