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Global May 22, 2012

Christie Rampone reflects on past Olympic Games with the U.S. Women’s National Team

Christie Rampone has played in 16 Olympic matches for the USA, tied with four other players for most ever in U.S. history, and should become the all-time leader in Olympic appearances come July in Glasgow, Scotland.

More than any other player on the U.S. Women’s National Team, captain Christie Rampone knows her way around the Olympics. From Sydney, Australia in 2000 to Athens, Greece in 2004 and to Beijing, China in 2008, Rampone has been a constant in the U.S. lineup.

Now, as she prepares to participate in her fourth Olympic Games, a feat no other U.S. player has accomplished – not Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy or Kristine Lilly – asked Rampone to give some memories of her on-and-off the field experiences during the previous three Olympics.

2000 Olympics – Sydney, Australia
Rampone did not play much in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup – just 17 minutes in one match – so the 2000 Olympics was really her first experience in a world championship. Playing right back, and just four years removed from playing college soccer and basketball at Monmouth University, Rampone (then Christie Pearce) played every minute of all five matches as the USA advanced to the gold medal game, only to fall to Norway in a match it could easily have won.

The Norwegians took just three shots on goal in the match – and scored on them all – but Tiffeny Milbrett’s dramatic header two minutes into stoppage time on virtually the last touch of regulation tied the match at 2-2 to send the final into golden goal overtime. The USA had all the momentum, but Dagny Mellgren’s controversial goal just 12 minutes into the first OT period gave the USA the silver medal, the only time out of the four Olympics in which women’s soccer has been contested that the Americans did not come home with gold. Replays clearly showed the Mellgren guided the ball forward her with her arm before scoring.

On contributing for the first time in a World Championship…
”It was my first world championship as a starter and I just remember seeing the Olympic rings everywhere. My eyes were wide open and it was unbelievable that I actually made the Olympic team and got to go to Australia and start. But I remember the players on my team the most and getting through it all together.”

On getting to attend the Opening Ceremonies…
Note: The U.S. team doesn’t usually get to attend the Opening Ceremonies as the Olympic soccer schedule has typically had the U.S. team in a city too far from the host city to attend.
“I didn’t want to let the pressure or the overall immensity of the Olympics get to me, but some of my best memories from all of the Olympics came in 2000 because that was the only time we got to attend the Opening Ceremonies. That was the best experience ever. I not only got to bond with my own teammates, but being able to talk to the other Olympic athletes was very moving. I thought it was so powerful to be with them, talk with them, take photos and be all together as one U.S. Olympic Team. It was also amazing to be at the Olympic Village early before the games started. Most of the time we don’t get to the Olympic Village until we get to the semis or final, so just walking through that stadium was so emotional and that set the tone for the rest of the Games. Luckily for me, I got to experience that at my first Olympics.”

On the pressure of being a young player at her first Olympics…
“At that point, it was a perfect situation for a young player because there weren’t a lot of people in the stands, but you knew that you were there and that you’d made it, so I just leaned on my teammates. I listened to Joy (Fawcett) and she calmed me down a lot so at that point it was just about going out and having fun.”

On the Olympic gold medal game…
“I do remember just dominating the very beginning of the game, then being a goal up and sitting back and trying to keep it, but Norway kept building the momentum and they got ahead. Then the shortest player on our team – Tiffeny Milbrett – came up and powered in that header to tie it. There was not a better feeling in the world going into the overtime and then there was experiencing that terrible defeating feeling when they scored the golden goal in overtime.”

2004 Olympics – Athens, Greece
As the Olympics returned to its birthplace, Rampone (who was now married and had her new name on the back of her jersey) was a veteran on the U.S. team. She started five of the six games during the tournament, playing all 90 minutes in those matches, including the quarterfinal, semifinal and gold medal games. The USA returned to the top of the podium with a dramatic overtime goal of its own, this one off the head of Abby Wambach, to defeat Brazil, 2-1. The match featured some tremendous defending from the USA – of which Rampone was a key part – and sent the four of the five famed “91ers” – Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm — into retirement with one last glorious victory.

On spending much of the first part of the tournament at a beach-side resort in Crete…
“My memories of Greece include a great first week with the team off the field, just bonding with in an amazing place like Crete, right there on the water, and just letting loose before all the craziness started.”

On doing everything they could to win for the veterans…
“On the field, it was just like throwing your body every which way to make sure you won for the older girls. It was all about the players who paved the way. I remember just being in the locker room and looking at those players who were about to retire and thinking I would never give up for them.”

On the satisfaction of sending the pioneers out on top…
“They set the standard and everything we have today is due to them. To help them retire on top, there is not a better feeling for a young player, no better gift you could give them. You can’t have words to describe what they meant to this team so to send them off in the right way was very meaningful to all of us.”

On Greece…
“I remember the families there having so much fun. The food was great and it’s definitely a place I would want to go back to when all this is done.”

2008 Olympics – Beijing, China
Rampone took over the captaincy in 2008 after Kristine Lilly stepped away to have a baby. She led new head coach Pia Sundhage’s first world championship team to China, a country where the U.S. players had plenty of experience after having traveled there for numerous tournaments leading up to the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2008 Olympics.

She once again played every minute of every game – in fact Rampone has yet to be subbed out of an Olympic match – and led the team to gold, this time defeating Brazil 1-0 in overtime on a strike from distance by Carli Lloyd.

The U.S. team had a bumpy road to Beijing, first losing top scorer Abby Wambach to a broken leg just days before the team left for China, and then losing its first game against Norway, 2-0. However, the Americans rebounded to win the group, defeated Canada in overtime in the quarterfinal, took down Japan 4-2 in the semifinal and then notched the historic victory against Brazil.

On losing Abby Wambach and the first game of the Olympics…
“Beijing was a different experience. Being to China so many times, we knew how tough it was to adjust to the time and culture, but losing our leading scorer Abby right before we left, we were kind of uneasy going into the tournament. We didn’t know what we are going to be like. We lost our best player up top and the team was a bit in shock and then we lost the first game. As the captain, I had to be in the press conferences and reporters are asking you about going home and saying you are not going to make it out of the group. It was all kind of surreal considering we are used to being on top.”

On the team growing together and finding its identity throughout the tournament…
“It was amazing being able to feel when the team grew stronger. We never quit. After a defeat like that 2-0 loss to Norway in first game, we could have fallen apart and gone home, but we fought back. Were we the best the next game? No, but we grew as the tournament went on and no one had scouted us without Abby. The confidence grew from within and we proved everybody wrong. I don’t think it was our greatest tournament overall, but it was the best show of perseverance for us. It was a complete team effort and being captain of the team, leading that team, was just a great experience.”

On the moments after the gold medal game ended…
“I remember the final whistle and a silence just overcame me. It was almost like I couldn’t believe we did this, but at the same I knew that we could. I was so excited running around the field carrying the flag. It was just pandemonium. I remember being able to celebrate with the team, the kids and all the families was really special.”

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