ATHENS, Greece – Did you see the future? Did you see it?
Did you see the impact? Did you?
Right there in the women's soccer gold medal game, right there where the United States' pioneering five – Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain – played together for the last time, won together, dramatically 2-1 over Brazil in extra time, for the last time.
Right there when they were hugging and jumping and waving American flags in a celebration of Olympic gold and of all that was and is and has been – it was right there.
It was crumpled in a heap of frustrated exhaustion. It was buried in hands filling with tears. It was in a determined look of never again.
Our focus is always on our girls and that's fine. But did you see those Brazilians?
The losing team was faster than the Americans here on Thursday. They were more skilled. The truth is, Brazil was better for longer periods of the gold medal game.
Not that it mattered. The U.S. got an incredible header from Abby Wambach in overtime and that was that.
The 'Fab Five' went out on top. Just as destiny wrote it.
But the future was on the other side.
There was Cristiane, Brazil's mega-star, just 19, perhaps the best women's soccer player in the world. Already. The leading goal scorer of this tournament needs just one name. The next Mia.
There was Marta, just 18, who baffled the Americans with spin moves and changes of direction and phantom passes no one saw coming. They had no answer for her. So good. So young.
There were 11 players in green jerseys Thursday who were 26 years old or younger. Brazil is the new world superpower that will one day become a favorite in every tournament it plays.
This is what Brazil was always about in soccer.
But that was for the boys.
Back in 1991, when those 'Fab Five' Americans were part of the squad that won the groundbreaking first Women's World Cup, the Cristianes and Martas of their day were barely on the radar. Brazil's under-funded, under-appreciated national team was a nonfactor – especially compared to the men.
A generation later, Brazil pushed the mighty U.S. to extra time.
Did you see the future? Did you see that style of play?
The U.S. women's soccer team changed the way young girls in this country see athletics, see themselves, see what is possible.
But in energizing our nation, they woke up others. By winning the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, by taking Olympic gold in 1996 and 2004, they didn't just conquer the world.
They inspired it.
They don't have Title IX in Brazil. But they have television.
Which is why it wasn't just Heather O'Reilly of East Brunswick, N.J. who tacked Mia Hamm posters on her bedroom wall. It wasn't just Shannon Boxx of Redondo Beach, Calif. who watched tapes of Team USA games until they wore out.
It wasn't just Lindsay Tarpley of Kalamazoo, Mich. who saw these strong, powerful, classy, beautiful women play and said: 'Hey, why not me too?'
It also happened in Norway and Germany and China – and in the most fertile soccer environment in the world, the teeming streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
On those same streets Thursday, local governments set up giant televisions so the masses could watch together. Thousands came out to cheer as their women played the team that inspired them – and as they, in turn, inspired another generation of wide-eyed girls.
Did you see the impact? Did you see the future?
It just goes on and on.
Wider every day, like ripples pushing across a pond.
- Mia Hamm