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 of more than 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 winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year 2002 told all about her greatest passion.

What does it mean to have won this award?
I think this award in recognising and celebrating women's football is wonderful in itself.

On a personal level, how does this year compare to last?
It was much better this year. Physically I felt better and emotionally too. I enjoyed this season a lot more. Our team was more successful in WUSA and the national team was great as well. I had knee surgery at the end of February and made it back early July, a lot sooner than we had been thinking.

Of the other two women shortlisted, what was so special about their performances this year?
Anybody who watches Sun Wen play can see how she is so unbelievably deceptive. She's extremely technical but, without a lot of effort, seems to be able to get people off balance when she's dribbling. And she's just a born finisher. I score goals but Sun Wen seems to figure out what shot to use based on what she sees, where the goalkeeper is, the space on the ball. She just doesn't wind up to shoot, she's very technical about where she puts the ball. It's fun to watch, but it's not fun to be on the other team much. When she comes in and plays, she helps her team find a way to win.

The thing we saw most in WUSA is how incredibly fast Birgit is. Her acceleration is unbelievable. That was the first thing I noticed. She made a run and I was like wow! She came in and made an immediate impact, became a leader at such a young age. She took so much responsibility to make that team into a championship-winning one.

Who would you have chosen as a fourth player?
There are lots. I would have Hege Riise on my team any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I actually got to play with her at the all-star game. Now I know how much fun you (turns to Birgit Prinz, who plays with Hege in Carolina Courage) have when you get balls from her - she's amazing! I think an unsung hero on our team (Washington Freedom) is Kristine Lilly. I think she impacts everything. Tiffeny Milbrett didn't have the year that she wanted but when she's on the field, she always makes things happen.

Are you looking forward to the FIFA Women's World Cup?
China's like a second home (laughs). When we first started with the national team, it seemed like the only place we'd go play. We're excited. I think for myself this will probably be my last World Cup and to have the opportunity to compete in that environment and represent your national team will be awesome. The exciting thing, just from our qualifying, is to see the teams getting better every game. Canada's improved, Mexico's improved and to go over there and to see how well they all do is going to be exciting. I mean I haven't seen Brazil. I'm nervous to see what Brazil's been doing for the past three years.

Obviously this is healthy for women's football?
More competitions, federations, the help of FIFA - investing more in women's programmes.

And yet USA and China have been dominant in women's football for many years…
Yes, but I think we're going to see so many teams competing. Germany's always up there, Norway's always up there. Like I said, if you ask any team, they don't like to play Brazil because individually they're so skilful and you never know which Brazil team you are going to play: the one that's extremely organised and focused or the other one. They're frightening to play against because they're so talented.

Are they similar to the men's team - very talented and technical on the ball? Does that kind of stereotype work for other teams too?
Well, I mean what's great is that you're not just playing against their players but the whole history of their game. You look at Germany, extremely technical and very well organised, disciplined. Brazil is all about flair. Every single player it seems can hit a free kick, dribble through the entire team. Even the goalkeeper can! It's kind of their form of expression.

I suppose it helps if you watch the Brazilian national team. What impact did the success of the U.S. team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup have on women's football?
Those players played unbelievably well and Bruce Arena, their coach, has a history of getting his team to play for each other: to understand what your role is on this team, embracing it and going out there and playing your heart out - whether it's for five or 90 minutes. Those guys did it. He didn't start with the same line-up every single game. There were different guys going in but there weren't guys complaining or sulking. They were like, 'he's doing this for a reason, to help us win' and those guys embraced that. US Soccer is really developing now at all levels and we're seeing that on the women's side too. We have an U-16 national team, U-19 national team, we had the first U-19 World Championships and the US won that. When you go and you develop and give those kids the opportunity to play international soccer at such a young age, it just benefits the full national team.

US Soccer is massive in the States but not in the rest of the world. Why is that?
We didn't have to battle with history, the stereotypes of it being solely a men's game. It wasn't part of our national fabric whereas it is in Brazil, Germany and England. "Title 9" also helped - a government legislation giving equal funding, equal participation in government-funded universities. And a lot of them took on women's soccer programmes in the late 70s early 80s, as it was an inexpensive sport for colleges to adopt. They already had the facilities, the football fields etc.

What about Mia Hamm, where did this love for football come from?
I have an older brother and two older sisters that played. I can't remember not playing. I used to go to my brother's practices. I'm an athlete, I can't sing you a song, or paint you a picture but I was always a pretty good athlete - it was the way I expressed myself! I've made incredible friends; I've seen amazing places. It was awesome.

Did you watch football when you were young?
My first recollection was the 86 World Cup. I grew up mostly in Texas and we got all the Mexican channels. I lived in Florence, Italy when I was very young. My Dad didn't know much about soccer so he went to watch Fiorentina play. He brought that home. He'd never seen anything like it before. When walking to the stadium, everyone's cheering, extremely passionate and then, for the next six days before the next match, they'd talk on the streets about whether their team was successful.

Did you have an idol?
No, not really. In 86 you watch Maradona. I loved watching Marco van Basten and Zidane, Luis Figo. Then on the women's side Steffi Jones, Sun Wen. To get to see those guys on a weekly basis is great.