She will not be the youngest player at the Women's World Cup, but certainly one to keep an eye on: the Canadian forward Charmaine Hooper.

Sixty push-ups, 20 dips, seven pull-ups. Charmaine Hooper presses on with her workout. Four more sets of push-ups, another 20 dips, 21 more pull-ups. She could do more, would do more, if she was challenged by a muscle-flexing male.

"Sure I'm up for the challenge," she said. "Why not?" Second-best has never been good enough for Charmaine Hooper.

Long before the left-footed striker started turning heads on the international pitches, long before she emerged as Canada's offensive sparkplug, Hooper was trying to trump the boys on the playgrounds of Ottawa.

She was always at her older brother's heels, pushing herself to keep up. Lyndon was always willing to let her tag along. They played soccer together, tennis, football, even hockey. Whatever the game, Charmaine was driven to excel.

Training five days a week
"I was always pretty competitive," she said. "That maybe came from playing against Lyndon because we would always end up in little fights - no matter what we did. Every time we went out to play, I always wanted to win."

Both eventually slipped on Canadian jerseys. Both are the second-most capped players in the country. Charmaine, one of the few Canadian women to play professionally, just kept looking for new challenges.

Hooper and four of her team-mates from the Chicago Cobras now train five days a week with the Stingers men's team. "We usually play as a team, which can be frustrating at times, but without a doubt that's made me a more competitive player. It's made me a better player."

If excellence is her benchmark, the spotlight motivates her. The bigger the stage, the bigger she plays. It was Hooper, 31, who sparked the world all-stars to a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in FIFA's showcase February match.

She evened the score in the second half, blasting a free kick at the wall. The ball deflected off a shoulder and flew over U.S. 'keeper Tracy Ducar. Less than five minutes later, before a crowd of 15,367 in Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., Hooper ran onto a bouncing ball and volleyed the game-winner from 25 yards out.

She packed the game's most spectacular player award for the trip back home to Chicago - one more accomplishment for Canada's all-time leading goalscorer.

"She was always the MVP," mom Myrna once said. "Sometimes I would try to dissuade her but she wanted to keep going with soccer. She had her own way about her."

After playing collegiate soccer at North Carolina State, Hooper headed to Europe to hawk her trade. She played in Norway then Italy, finally touching down in Japan. Before long, Hooper emerged as one of the league's top scorers.

After she had accomplished all there was to accomplish, she headed back to Chicago. When she is not working out or playing soccer or spending time with her boyfriend Chuck Codd, a defender with the Stingers, she is training teams and running clinics.

"There was nothing more to gain in Japan. I had won just about every award there. Plus there was the distance. But I've been very privileged to be have been able to do that, to play in Japan and in Chicago."

"We have to be realistic"
As she turns her attentions to the World Cup, Hooper remains wary about Canada's chances. She has seen the impressive depth of the Americans, the enviable financial backing, the victories.

The Canadians are making their second trip to the World Cup. The squad failed to make it out of group play in 1995 and finished 10th.

Grouped with Norway, Japan and Russia, Canada play their first game June 19. "If you are playing at this level you want to win, you want to do well. Nobody likes to lose but at the same time I think we have to be realistic," she said.

"When you look at the time we spend together as a team, that can only go against us. We come together for two or three weeks, build a little bit, then we're gone for five months. When we come back again, we have to start over. We're never really moving on, which is too bad.

"In the last World Cup we had a good chance to qualify for the Olympics but we didn't. I hate to say here we go again - I really hope that's not the case - because we have a good chance. We just can't waste it away."