Back From Beijing

Oct. 16, 2008

By Honsen Lin
The Daily

Hope Solo was on top of the world.

The former Husky soccer star had just helped the U.S. women's national soccer team defeat Brazil 1-0 in overtime to win the gold medal in the 2008 Olympic games.

The goalkeeper celebrated big, and minutes after the game ended she had a large self-made gold medal on her neck and was on the phone with her brother.

'It was like a fairy tale ending,' Solo said. 'I never thought the script could have been written so perfectly, so beautifully -- like a Hollywood movie.'

But soccer was only part of the Olympic experience. Along the way, the former Husky ran into several other University of Washington athletes.

'It was kind of cool because I didn't realize how many Olympic Huskies there were,' Solo said.

She met Huskies on the USA crew team, discus-thrower Aretha Thurmond and other UW athletes, and she said it was like being part of a little community within the larger team USA community.

Solo's Olympic experience didn't start out the way she expected; the first few games of group play were held outside of Beijing, so it felt like any other soccer tournament to her.

'I kept waiting for it to hit me,' Solo said of the `Olympic feel'. 'It never hit me until we made it to the quarterfinals in Beijing.'At the athletes' village, Solo saw hundreds of countries' flags hanging from the balconies, and she picked up a vibe that felt very different from group play.

'That's when it hit me and that's when I realized, `Oh my gosh, I'm at the Olympics, this is everything I've ever dreamt to do,'' she said.Solo is certainly enjoying the high life now, but one year ago, she was involved in a controversy that had her banned from the national team for the women's World Cup third-place match.

After a 4-0 loss to Brazil in the semifinals, Solo criticized then-USA coach Greg Ryan for starting Briana Scurry instead of her. The fallout brought not only public criticism of Solo, but also exile from the third-place match and heat from her teammates.

This was not a common theme in Solo's career.

'When she wasn't the one playing,' UW soccer coach Lesle Gallimore said. 'She backed her starter at the time, and there was no issue like that with her here [at the UW].'

Luckily, Solo was able to re-bond with team USA in time for the Olympics.

'There's really no time to not get over what happened, and put all of our differences aside and get on with business,' Solo said. 'Of course we play for love of the game, but at the end this is a business as well, and we have to be professional.'

Solo credits USA coach Pia Sundhage with putting the team back together.

'She left no room for anything else,' Solo said. 'She was an incredible leader for all of us through that difficult time.'

Although Solo plays keeper for team USA, appears in Dodge and Nike commercials, and is now an Olympic gold medalist, she knows how to keep things in perspective.

'I'm trying to keep a level head and just stay focused on playing to the best of my ability,' she said.

Solo also fondly remembers her career at the UW and noted that despite her success after life as a Husky, some of her most memorable times were at Washington.

'For us, we're just proud to have been a part of her career when she was here at Washington,' Gallimore said.

Now, Solo is preparing to carry on her love of the game in the new Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league.

'It is so incredible to be part of a frontrunner to this new league and just to be part of something which, in essence, is the future of women's sports and the future for women's soccer in America,' Solo said.

Gallimore agreed.

'For women, it's rare you have the opportunity to compete at that high of a level professionally, and so for her it's a dream come true.'

Solo will be playing for St. Louis, a team she chose based on playing style, philosophy, organization and coaching.

'I was very impressed with the organization of St. Louis,' Solo said. 'And it was truly the only team I was excited to put down on my piece of paper.'

At the height of her career, Solo is not ready to discuss retirement plans.

'I'm not too worried about what's going to happen with my life after soccer,' she said. 'I'm happy right now, and I know things are always going to be there waiting for me when I have to hang up the cleats.'

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