- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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LONDON -- At the start of the Olympics, this tournament was being billed as Abby Wambach's farewell tour. Great choice of words considering the U.S. team played six games in four stadiums in 16 days.
But the day before the U.S. team's semifinal match with Canada at Old Trafford, the 32-year-old forward said she wasn't ready to hang up her boots just yet. After defeating Japan 2-1 in the gold-medal match and scoring five goals in six games, Wambach backed up that statement, saying she plans to ride this wave as long as her body will allow.
"I think the sky is the limit," Wambach said shortly after her team went undefeated to earn its third consecutive gold medal and fourth in five Olympics. "If I can get fully well and feel good, I want to be a part of this team. I think I'm a lifer."
In her first Olympics in 2004, Wambach became an international star when she scored on a header in extra time against Brazil in the gold-medal match. In 2008, she initially made the team but suffered a broken leg in a friendly with Brazil shortly before the team was to leave for Beijing and was replaced by Lauren Cheney.
Since then, she has struggled with injuries, including a three-year battle with Achilles tendonitis. But throughout this tournament, Wambach has talked about the recovery protocol and rehab techniques -- like ice baths, compression tights and a boot-like night splint -- that have her feeling as good physically as she has in years.
"If I am welcomed by the coaches and can continue to play well for my country, my hopes are high," Wambach said. "Winning a gold here is extra incentive to come back and play for the first U.S. World Cup title since 1999."
Fellow team captain Christie Rampone has all but said she will retire after these Olympics. On Wednesday, the day before the gold-medal match, she said she often reminds herself to enjoy the moment and take in every practice, knowing they will be her last. On Thursday, she became the first soccer player to earn four Olympic medals (three gold and one silver), doing so at 37 years of age, as a mother of two and while battling Lyme disease.
"Christie will defy every odd before she hangs up her boots," Wambach said. "She is still so respected and such a great soccer player that it will be hanging them up too soon if she does so after this. We hope we can keep this team together in 2015 and vie for the World Cup. I can't speak for Christie, but I'm looking forward to 2016. Right now, though, I just want to celebrate this win."