American soccer player
The world's most famous female soccer player, Mia Hamm, embodied the rise of American soccer, a sport played by millions of girls and boys that lacked a celebrity focus and a role model until she emerged as the leading all-time goal scorer in international soccer competition. Hamm became the biggest soccer name in the United States while playing on the U.S. national team in three World Cups and two Olympics.
Catching the Bug
Mariel Margaret Hamm was the fourth of six children born into a military family. Her father, Will Hamm, was a colonel in the U.S. army, and the family frequently moved as he was reassigned –to California, Alabama, Virginia, Texas and elsewhere. Hamm's mother, Stephanie, was a dancer, and she nicknamed her daughter Mia after prima ballerina Mia Slavenska. But Mia rejected her mother's attempts to make her into a dancer. Hamm refused to continue after just two ballet lessons when she was about six years old.
Hamm was already more interested in sports, especially soccer. When she was a toddler, her father was stationed in Florence, Italy. He bought season tickets to see the Fiorentina soccer club, and he often took Hamm to the games, where they both were mesmerized with the passion and athleticism of the players. "I believe it was in Italy that I really fell in love with the game," Hamm recalled to Greg Mazzola of Coach and Athletic Director magazine. When the family moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, her father started refereeing soccer games and coaching her older brother, Garrett, and older sister, Tiffany. Hamm started playing when she was five, and her father was often her coach.
Young Mia Hamm especially admired her brother's Garrett's soccer skills. "When Garrett was in high school, he was the athlete Mia wanted to be," her future husband Christian Corey revealed to Rosemary Feitelberg of WWD magazine. Garrett often chose Hamm to play with him in pick-up games against older boys. She also played Little League baseball, softball, tennis, basketball, and even football as a young girl, and later took up golf. There were few or no girls' teams in any sports, including soccer, so Hamm often played with the boys. At Notre Dame Middle School, she was the split end and kicker on the football team. "I was just one of the guys," Hamm later told Mike Spence of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph.
Hamm played high school soccer as a freshman and sophomore at Notre Dame High School in Wichita Falls.
At 15, Hamm became the youngest player ever selected to the women's national team. She played forward and filled in as a goalie for one international game. Hamm graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Dorrance recruited her to play for his team at the University of North Carolina. His influence on Hamm was crucial to her development, especially since she lacked confidence. Dorrance once pulled her aside and told her that she could become the best player in the world. "Without his guidance, support, and teaching, I'd never have become the player I turned out to be," Hamm revealed to Mazzola.
At North Carolina, Hamm majored in political science and broke collegiate records as a soccer star. She played on four straight NCAA championship teams from 1989 through 1993, was a three-time National Player of the Year, and became the NCAA's all-time leading scorer. Hamm's 103 goals, 72 assists and 278 points were all collegiate records, as were her tournament career records of 16 goals, nine assists and 41 points. Dorrance continued to urge her to work harder and develop her skills.
In 1991, Hamm took a sabbatical from college and spent a year training with the U.S. National team and playing in the first-ever Women's World Cup, held in China. Coached by Dorrance, the U.S. women won the world championship.
Barely 5 foot 5 and 125 pounds, Hamm was quick, an excellent passer, and a devastating shooter. She also earned a reputation as an excellent dribbler and header and could score with either foot. Aggressive and determined, Hamm had an uncanny knack for penetrating defenses. "Mia has this amazing ability to go right through defenders, as if by molecular displacement," said Dorrance.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Hamm married Christian Corey, a career Marine, and played exclusively for the women's national team. In the 1995 Women's World Cup, she played forward and midfielder. One game, she even filled in at goal-keeper when the U.S. keeper was red-carded and had to leave the game. She led the team to a third-place bronze medal finish
The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, was the first in which women's soccer was a gold-medal sport. After many years of American girls playing the sport, it was time for soccer to take center stage, and Hamm was in the spotlight. Before the largest crowd in the history of women's soccer, 76,481, at the University of Georgia's Seaford Stadium, plus a huge television audience, the U.S. team took on China for the gold medal. Sportswriter Dan Weber wrote: "…in Pele -like fashion, Hamm was both the difference – and the focus of everything that happened. … Hamm had a hand – or a hamstring – in every U.S. strike." Hamm, who was playing on a badly sprained ankle, was all over the field. In the 19th minute, she took a cross from Christine Lilly and shot it past the goalie. It hit the upright, and teammate Shannon MacMillan scored on the rebound. After China tied the score, Hamm took the ball into the right corner in the 68th minute, stopped and crossed the ball to Joy Fawcett, who fed Tiffeny Milbrett for the game-winning goal.
Olympic gold medals bring attention, and almost overnight Hamm, the biggest star on the U.S. team, became a celebrity. Advertisers hoped to connect her notoriety to the market of eight million female soccer players under the age of 18 in the United States. Hamm started doing commercials for Nike, a sponsor of the U.S. women's soccer team. Nike designed a women's sports shoe in her honor that featured her number 9. Hamm also did endorsements for Sportmart, Power Bar, Pert Plus shampoo and Pepsi. People named her one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World."
According to a 1998 Sports Business Daily survey, Hamm was America's most marketable female endorser. She even promoted a new Soccer Barbie doll. Hamm's most famous commercial epitomized the impact that she had on the male-dominated world of American athletics. In a widely played Gatorade spot, Hamm challenged fellow University of North Carolina superstar Michael Jordan to a series of sports contests, including tennis, basketball, soccer, track, and fencing, and as the song "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" played, the commercial ended with Hamm flipping Jordan over her hip in a judo maneuver. "You have the greatest icon of American sports put alongside this woman who's saying, 'I can beat you,'" said Rick Burton, a professor at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Marketing Center, in a Newsweek interview. "That's incredibly important to the women's sports movement."
In a later commercial for Gatorade Ice, Hamm was shown executing a header and a bicycle kick as "ice" flows through her veins in a computerized rendering of her endoskeleton. All her endorsement deals gave her an estimated $1 million in annual earnings in a sport where most women players could not yet earn a full-time living by playing professionally.
Hamm had come to symbolize not only the ascendancy of soccer as an American sport, but the rise of women's athletics. She became a top role model and a much-in-demand speaker. Hamm participated widely in clinics for girls and exhibition games to promote soccer. She told audiences of young girls how soccer had transformed her from shy and uncertain to confident and strong. Hamm wrote an inspirational book, Go for the Goal: A Champion's Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life, which was part autobiography but primarily a soccer instructional manual filled with inspirational advice. In the book, she emphasized teamwork and practice as well as heart and attitude, insisting there was no place on a soccer team for an egotistical player with the aphorism "There is no me in Mia."
|1987||Joins U.S. Women's National Team as youngest member|
|1989-93||Leads University of North Carolina to four national championships|
|1989-93||Sets all-time collegiate scoring records|
|1991, 1995, 1999||Plays in Women's World Cup|
|1996, 2000||Plays on U.S. Olympic teams|
|1999||Establishes Mia Hamm Foundation|
|2000||Founds WUSA, Women's United Soccer Association|
|2001-02||Plays for Washington Freedom in WUSA|
As Hamm grew increasingly comfortable as a role model for girls, she gradually shed the shyness and inhibition that were part of her personality. But she was reluctant to hog the spotlight and quick to credit others for her success. As for being labeled the world's greatest player, Hamm said it was mostly a matter of more attention being paid to goal scoring. In 1999 she told Mazzola: "I'm just another player trying to fill my role on this talented team. Since I score goals, I get more attention." Even when she described her own abilities, she downplayed them. Hamm explained to Starr: "A great finisher can analyze in a split second what the goalie is doing, what surface of the foot to use, and then put the ball in exactly the right spot. It's an ability to slow down time. You don't actually shoot any faster than other players do, but you process a lot more information in the same time … I'm still working on that." During the 1999 World Cup, she admitted to Newsweek that she wouldn't take penalty kicks because "I lack confidence."
Hamm always promoted the sport above herself. She appeared at clinics and freely gave autographs at every opportunity, but often refused photo shoots for high-profile publications. "This isn't all about me," said Hamm to Newsweek during the build-up to the 1999 Women's World Cup. "I won't bear the entire responsibility for my gender and my sport. I can't carry that much weight. I'm not that strong a person." Her national team coach, Tony DiCicco, told Jere Longman of the New York Times: "She's not only a soccer icon. She's an icon for women's athletics. That's a huge responsibility."
Hamm became a leader in other aspects of life as well. Her brother Garrett contracted a rare blood disease, aplastic anemia. Hamm joined the board of the Marrow Foundation and raised $50,000 for his bone marrow transplant with a charity soccer match. After his death, she established the Mia Hamm Foundation to raise money for bone-marrow research and to set up clinics and camps for young girls in soccer and other sports. The foundation held an annual golf tournament, the Mia Hamm Foundation Golf Classic, to raise money to help families of bone marrow transplant patients.
On a Winning Team
In 1997, Hamm participated in Nike's Victory Tour, an international competition played in six U.S. cities. Later that same year, Hamm was a top goal-scorer in the U.S. Women's Cup, scoring three goals against Canada and two against Australia.
In 1998, Hamm led the U.S. team with 20 goals and 20 assists in international play. In May 1999, Hamm set a new international scoring record with her 108th career goal. That spring, she also had a research and development building at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, named after her. The goal-scoring record brought her more notoriety. "When I was playing, they said soccer was a man's world and that women should remain on the sidelines," said soccer legend Pele, in an endorsement on the Go for the Goal book jacket. "All I can say is I'm glad I never had to go up against Mia Hamm."
In 1999, Hamm went through a drought during World Cup qualifying rounds, going eight games without scoring. Defenses double- and even triple-teamed her. The World Cup, held in U.S. cities, was no disappointment, as Hamm and her teammates pushed women's soccer to new heights of popularity in the host country. More than 90,000 fans packed the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, for the championship game between the U.S. team and China, the most people ever to see a women's sporting event in history. Many of the U.S. fans were wearing replica Hamm jerseys with her number 9 on them. The U.S. won on a penalty kick by Brandi Chastain during a tie-breaker shootout after an exciting scoreless duel.
In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Hamm scored a goal and the U.S. women earned a 2-0 victory in the opening game against Norway. The U.S. and China played to a 1-1 draw, and then the U.S. beat Nigeria to advance to the semifinals against Brazil. Hamm scored the only goal in the semifinal game to give her a career total of 127 goals. In the championship game against arch-rival Norway, in front of a capacity crowd in Sydney and a global TV audience, the U.S. was trailing 2-1 with time running out. Hamm had an assist on the sole U.S. goal, by Tiffeny Milbrett. Ninety seconds into stoppage time, Hamm was in the right corner and lofted a high pass to Milbrett, who headed it into the goal for the equalizer. But Norway won the game in overtime.
Hamm was heading into a new phase in her career, no longer a top goal-scorer. "Her best gift may be her competitive force," noted Jay Papasan of Texas Monthly. "If scoring eludes her, she intensifies other areas of her game, doling out assists, hounding loose balls, and stretching the defense with her long, slashing runs."
In 2000, Hamm was a founder of the first women's professional soccer league, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), and she was counted on to provide the star power to make the league financially viable. She joined the Washington Freedom and appeared frequently at civic events to promote the new league and the Freedom team. Overcoming her quiet demeanor, Hamm often spoke of the need to support the league. DiCicco, who was the league's commissioner, referred to Hamm as "our Michael Jordan" in an article by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated for Women.
The Freedom drew a crowd of 34,148 for the league's inaugural game in 2001 and defeated the Bay Area Cyber Rays 1-0. Hamm, though battling injuries, dribbled past Chastain and drew a foul which set up the game-winning goal on a penalty kick. She started the first three games of the 2001 season as a midfielder, partly because she was recovering from a shoulder injury, then coach Jim Gabbara moved her back to forward.
Every place Washington played, attendance soared as young girls and their families came out to see Hamm. "Hamm has been the pied piper of the Women's United Soccer Association, attracting hoards of fans wherever she goes," noted Jennifer Starks of the Contra Costa Times. "Hamm's presence has been critical in the attempts to promote and sell the new soccer league to the masses." Attendance at games averaged 14,000 when Hamm appeared; without her, it averaged about 8,000.
She would spend up to 20 minutes after each game signing autographs. For the season, Hamm played six positions and scored only six goals. In September, however, she scored two goals in the U.S. national team's 4-1 win over Germany to extend her career record to 129.
Hamm was still piling up honors. At the end of 2001, FIFA – soccer's international governing body — named Hamm its first Women's Player of the Year. Also that year, she divorced Corey and later began dating Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, whom she first met in 1998 while beating him in a penalty-kick contest.
In the off-season, Hamm underwent knee surgery. In 2002, she did not play until the Freedom's tenth game, when she entered wearing a knee brace in the 65th minute of play and seven minutes later scored a goal that gave Washington a 2-1 victory. Athough Hamm started only one game, she was the key player in Washington's playoff run. The team went 10-1-2 after she rejoined the squad, and she had eight goals and six assists, including three game-winning goals. Coming in fresh in the second half, Hamm would attack defenses in her old style. Even after turning 30, she was still a force to be reckoned with.
Mia Hamm was a pioneer to a degree that few other athletes have ever been in any sport. She scored more goals in international competition than any man or woman who ever played the world's most popular game, and in doing so brought women's soccer to global notoriety. In the United States, Hamm represented the ascendancy of women's athletics, being the foremost name in the most popular sport played by girls and becoming an icon representing women's ability to compete on the playing field. As the key to the success of the first women's professional soccer league, Hamm carried a heavy weight on her shoulders, but did so with consistent grace, poise and humility. Her philosophy of team play above individual achievement set a tone that helped instruct countless young athletes, girls and boys.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1987||Youngest-ever member of U.S. Women's National team|
|1989-90||NCAA All-Tournament team|
|1989-90, 1992-93||Member of NCAA championship team|
|1991||Member of Women's World Cup champions|
|1992||Women's College Player of the Year|
|1992||Sets NCAA record for season scoring and assists|
|1992-93||Most valuable offensive player, NCAA Tournament|
|1993||NCAA Player of the Year|
|1993||Sets NCAA tournament career scoring record|
|1993||Sets NCAA career record for goals, assists, points|
|1993-94||Women's College Athlete of the Year|
|1993-94||Atlantic Coast Conference Female Athlete of the Year|
|1993-94||Mary Garber Award|
|1994-99||Female Athlete of the Year, U.S. Soccer Association|
|1996||Olympic Gold Medal|
|1998||Goodwill Games Gold Medal|
|1999||Breaks international career goals record|
|1999||Sportswoman of the Year, Women's Sports Foundation|
|1999||Member of Women's World Cup champions|
|2001||Women's Player of the Year, FIFA|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY HAMM:
(With Aaron Heifetz) Go for the Goal: A Champion's Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life. Harper Collins, 1999.
Christopher, Matt and Glenn Stout. On the Field with … Mia Hamm. Little, Brown, 1998. Rutledge, Rachel. Mia Hamm: Striking Superstar. Mill brook Press, 2000.
Collie, Ashley Jude. "Hamm It Up! Mia Hamm is Shy and Quiet, Except on the Soccer Field." Sports Illustrated for Kids, 11 (June 1, 1999): 22.
Diedrick, Brian. "Gatorade Scores With Ice-Cold Superstar." SHOOT, 43 (April 19, 2002): 10.
Feitelberg, Rosemary. "Mia Hamm: Kicking Back." WWD, 173 (April 3, 1997): 64.
"The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World 1997.#x201D; People, 47 (May 12, 1997): 90.
Haydon, John. "Mia Hamm Relishes Her Role as Big Cheese in Women's Game." Washington Times, (June 7, 1997): 7.
Hobgood, Cynthia. "Golf Tourney Boosts Hamm's Foundation." Washington Business Journal. 19 (May 4, 2001): 10.
Hobgood, Cynthia. "Mia and Michael." Washington Business Journal. 19 (December 29, 2000): 8.
"It Went Down to the Wire." Newsweek. 134 (July 19, 1999): 46.
Killion, Ann. "Mia Hamm is providing a connection." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (May 8, 1997): 508 K5953.
Longman, Jere. "A Superstar's Burden." New York Times Upfront. 132 (September 6, 1999): 32.
"Match Play: The Dating Trend of the Moment?" People. 58 (August 19, 2002): 58.
Mazzola, Gregg. "Goals." Coach and Athletic Director. 68 (December 1998): 44.
"Mia Hamm: Top Scorer in the Soccer World." U.S. News & World Report. 126 (June 21, 1999): 13.
Papasan, Jay. "Mia Hamm." Texas Monthly. 28 (September 2000): 156.
"Scorecard (Mia Hamm Will Have a Building Named After Her)." Sports Illustrated. 90 (May 31, 1999): 23.
Spence, Mike. "Mia Hamm Emerging as Best Female Soccer Player of the Year." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (May 16, 1996): 516 K3237.
Starks, Jennifer. "Women's Soccer Banks on the Mia Factor."Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (July 25, 2001): K4979.
Starr, Mark. "Keeping Her Own Score." Newsweek. 133 (June 21, 1999): 60.
Stein, Marc. "Hamm, Teammates One Win Away From Repeating for Soccer Gold." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (September 27, 2000): K3635.
Wahl, Grant. "Mia's Excellent Adventure."Sports Illustrated for Women. 3 (March 1, 2001): 64.
Weber, Dan. "Mia Hamm Makes All the Difference. "Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (August 1, 1996): 80 K2154.
Wright, Ken. "Freedom to Keep Hamm in Sub Role." Washington Times. (August 21, 2002): C03.
Wright, Ken. "Hamm Scores Winner in Return to Freedom."Washington Times. (June 13, 2002): C09.
"Head Coach U.S. Women's National Team." Soccer-Times.com. http://www.soccertimes.com/usteams/roster/women/dorrance.htm (December 30, 2002).
"Mia Hamm." Women in Sports. http://www.makeithappen.com/wis/bios/hammm.html(December 28, 2002).
"Mia Hamm." WUSA. http://www.wusa.com/players_coaches/players/mia_hamm/(December 28, 2002).
"Mia Hamm Awards." Elaine's Mia Hamm webpage. http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Pressbox/6343/awards.html (December 28, 2002).
Sketch by Michael Betzold