I’ve really been showing my age in the last two posts, but Mia Hamm, along with occasional mentions of Landon Donovan, was really the only soccer icon I ever saw in my formative years (which, by the way, involved a lot of soccer).
Born in Selma, Alabama, Mia bounced around the world with her Air Force family, and began playing the sport while in Italy. After moving back to the states, she quickly became the top dog in soccer at her high school, and even played on the football team in what is usually an all-male sport. She was invited to play with the US Women’s National Team at only 15 years old. Some people are just born with way too much ability.
She went to UNC Chapel Hill in 1989 and won 4 national championships, winning 95 games with only one loss in her time there. During this time, she appeared in her first world cup in 1991, where she scored a game winning goal in the opening game to put the team on track to eventually win the entire tournament. Hamm was only 19 at the time, and the youngest player in the entire tournament.
The 1995 World Cup didn’t quite go as well as the team landed in 3rd place, but Hamm added a few more goals to her resume. In 1996, she led the team to their first ever gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics, and scored her 100th international goal two years later.
The 1999 World Cup was a drama-packed one, as the USWNT squared off against China PR in the final and took the game into overtime and then to a penalty shootout. Hamm made her shot, and the US ultimately one by a single kick. She then passed out from dehydration in the locker room and slept for 12 hours before rejoining her team in celebrations. And if that isn’t a legacy cementer, I don’t know what is.
The 2003 World Cup was Hamm’s final tournament before retirement, and she opened the first two games with 4 assists and 2 goals before being mostly shut down in the final 3 games as the USWNT took 3rd place.
In 2004, she scored her 158th international goal, a world record that stood (in both men’s and women’s soccer) until it was broken by Abby Wombach in 2013.
During all this Hamm starred in so many commercials that most every kid in America knew that she wanted them up and moving, including her famous commercial where she competed with Michael Jordan in a number of different sports. She was one of the faces of US athletics in the 90s and early 00s. The sheer number of awards and recognition make it impossible to list it all. Most impressive, though, was her induction to the World Football Hall of Fame in Mexico in 2013... The very first woman to ever do so.