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THE SECRET LIFE OF Mia Hamm
Gary Smith
September 22, 2003
In the divided soul of the world's greatest female soccer player, the shy, self-critical athlete is locked in mortal combat with the relentlessly driven superstar
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September 22, 2003

The Secret Life Of Mia Hamm

In the divided soul of the world's greatest female soccer player, the shy, self-critical athlete is locked in mortal combat with the relentlessly driven superstar

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"I'm trying to make relationships my first priority. In the end the medals never say, 'I love you.' They tarnish and collect dust. People tried to tell me that before. You can read it in books and hear it on Oprah and say, 'Oh, yeah.' But it has to be in your gut, and I guess it wasn't. Your perception is your reality. I'm stalling to trust myself."

Yes, let's let Mia talk for a change, before she hangs it up next August along with most of the other women at the heart of the sisterhood who've been playing together since the late '80s. Mia, Julie, Joy, Kristine and Brandi Chastain are already planning reunions at which they'll gather and laugh over all the silly things they did. Like the time that everyone misinterpreted, when a teammate yanked Mia's shorts up to her chest just as that photographer was snapping that front-page picture for USA Today, and she felt laughter coming on so hard that she had to duck behind a teammate.

Mia actually seems to be relishing the prospect of retirement, something no one could've imagined of her two years ago. To be looking forward to making little Nomars, to sitting in a backyard with her siblings and parents and watching all the Hamm grandchildren play touch football for as long as a Hamm can bear to sit and watch.

Of course, that's when she's not worrying about getting cut from the U.S. team any moment now, or writhing over what you think about every word in this story. Remember, she's just starting to trust herself. Just starting a long trip.

Let's let her savor the WUSA championship she helped lead her team to last month, even though the league into which she poured so much of herself folded three weeks later. Let's let her get married in private after the World Cup and then vanish with the balloons and the doves and the fireworks at the closing ceremonies next summer in Athens. She's spun enough gold, forged enough steel in that furnace. Let's remember her as the bridge, the one all the ponytailed phenoms are climbing across to leave behind the 20th century, when so many women had to feel apologetic about going for it all, in order to reach the 21st, when they'll all be standing on the white dot waiting for the ball, and the photo op, and the commercial.

She's 31. It's time. Sometimes you've got to disappear before you can really see yourself.

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