She has written a biography, given her name to a building, played as goalkeeper at a FIFA World Cup™ and yet scored a world record 130 goals at international level. Already an American legend, Mariel Margaret Hamm had little to prove in 2002. But "Mia" showed just why she is an idol to millions by overcoming injury to lead her country to qualification for another world football finals.
The year did not begin particularly well for the inaugural 2001 FIFA Player of the Year winner. The Washington Freedom midfielder missed the start of the season through knee injury and had to wait until June before making an appearance in the American WUSA league. However she quickly made up for lost time, scoring eight goals and making six assists to spearhead both club and country, USA, to success. Despite a spectacular goal, her efforts were not quite enough for Washington to secure the WUSA Founders Cup II title in August. But the talented playmaker recovered to score the winning goal in the CONCACAF Gold Cup against Canada to send the USA to the FIFA Women's World Cup China PR 2003.
On the move
Mia Hamm was born on 17 March 1972 in Selma in the US state of Alabama. From a very young age, it was obvious that the young American had a gift when the ball was at her feet. Due to her father's position in the military, her family was constantly on the move when she was a child. But the blonde-haired girl came under the influence of Anson Dorrance – her coach at the University of North Carolina (where she graduated in Political Science) as well as the national team. Dorrance discovered Hamm, took her under his wing and remains a mentor and virtually a surrogate member of her family. Not only did the coach mould his star pupil's ambition, commitment and will to win, but also her personality.
Since making her debut with the senior national team at just 15, Hamm's record is awe-inspiring. She has become the best-known player in the US national team and possibly the world. In more than 220 international caps for the USA, she has scored a record-breaking 136 goals. Her 114 assists also highlight her unselfish nature on the field.
The words of a team-mate probably best describe the feeling to play alongside Mia Hamm: "When Mia has the ball at her feet, you have the feeling that something great will happen."
In Atlanta in 1996, Hamm became Olympic Champion. This was followed by a silver medal in 2000 at the Olympic Games in Sydney. She was part of the US teams that won the FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 1991 and in the USA in 1999. At Sweden 1995, she wrote herself into the football history books by playing in goal against Denmark after regular goalkeeper, Briana Scurry, was sent off and the team had already used their three substi-tutions. In doing so, she helped the US to victory in the match and the bronze medal.
Hamm has for some years been a role model for the youth generation. In the USA, she enjoys the popularity of a pop idol. She shares an advertising campaign for an energy drink with Michael Jordan, has Barbie doll sponsorship and has a building named after her by Nike. Her book "Go for Gold" is less a biography than a handbook on how to succeed in football and in life. She has even found time to help charitable causes: the Mia Hamm Foundation actively works in the fight against bone marrow disease.With so many American girls wishing to emulate Hamm, the replica of her number 9 shirt has long been a topseller. Mia's team, Washington Freedom, regularly draw the highest attendances at away matches, averaging 11,277 fans per game in 2001. Everyone wanted to see Mia.
But the girl from Alabama has learnt how to handle her popularity. She values the public-ty, but does not seek out the cameras. Too much attention is almost embarrassing to her. "In short, I'm just a football player. I've not freed any slaves or changed the world. I just play football and enjoy my success," Hamm once said.
She may not have physically untied any chains, but there is no denying that Hamm’s success has contributed to the outstanding growth in women's football over recent years, writing a new chapter in the sport.