- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

NORWAY 3, U.S. 2

SYDNEY, Australia This is considered the year of the woman at the Olympics, with the biggest stars of the Games being Cathy Freeman and Marion Jones.
This has put, in no small part, a certain amount of pressure on the American women who have helped paved the road to reach this point.
The American softball team, which captured worldwide attention by winning the gold in Atlanta in dramatic fashion and pioneering their sport in the process, did their part by repeating as gold medal winners in Sydney.
The American women's soccer team did not.
The U.S. team that won worldwide attention by winning the 1996 gold medal and then last year's World Cup in the United States lost a hard-fought 3-2 overtime game yesterday to Norway at Sydney Football Stadium before nearly 23,000.
The loss marks the end of an era in women's sports in America and the start of a new one. Many of the stars of this team, such as Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, became high-profile stars and symbols of the boom in women's sports.
Now they will have to deliver. The women's soccer game is about to begin a new chapter, a professional league that will start play next season.
In a climate that has proved difficult for professional soccer to succeed and with many questions still remaining about the viability of women's pro sports a gold medal would have meant a big boost to the new league. Silver won't quite create the same excitement.
Still, the American women 14 of them from last year's World Cup champions and 10 from the 1996 gold medalists were proud of their effort against a tough Norway team that had handed the U.S. women (21-4, with seven draws) three losses but a team the Americans had defeated 2-0 in the first game they played here two weeks ago.
"They won the silver medal but their game was golden tonight," said American coach April Heinrichs. "I'm incredibly proud of each one and incredibly proud of their achievements."
Chastain said the pressure to repeat as gold medal winners did not affect their play.
"I think the expectation everyone puts on us can't possibly be as high as those we put on ourselves," she said. "We weren't completely satisfied tonight. We played to win, and finals produce great matches. Tonight was a great match."
It was an upset only in the sense that the U.S. team has received so much attention in America that they it was considered the favorites going into Sydney. But they faced tough competition in the tournament, and Norway was the only team that owned an advantage over the United States (15-13-2 all time). The Norwegians are also the only team to beat the Americans in a World Cup or Olympic tournament, the other victory coming in the 1995 World Cup semifinals.
"Norway did what they had to do," said Heinrichs, who faced pressure to repeat the success of former coach Tony DiCicco. "They kept their game plan very simple, and they never gave up."
To the American women's credit, neither did they.
The U.S women scored first in the fifth minute on a goal by Tiffeny Milbrett, the seventh all-time leading scorer in the world. The Americans continued to put on the pressure, nearly scoring again at the 30-minute mark on a header by Julie Foudy.
It wasn't until the 44th minute that Norway, which seemed to be willing to absorb the pressure of the American women and wait, mounted a counterattack., with Gro Espeseth scoring on a header to tie it.
Norway went ahead 2-1 in the 78th minute on another header, this one by Ragnhild Gulbrandsen. That seemed to be enough to win the gold as time ran down. But with just seconds remaining, Milbrett scored again on a pass from Hamm, and the game went into overtime.
It appeared that the Americans had the momentum, but in the 12th minute of sudden death, substitute Dagny Mellgren scored, taking a deflection and getting it past American goalkeeper Siri Mullinix to give Norway the 3-2 victory and the gold medal.
"When the U.S. team scored very early, I thought, 'No, not again. Why should they win again and again and again?' " Espeseth said. "It was terrible when Tiffy scored the goal when they were a few seconds from the end. But we came back. Dagny scored a wonderful goal, and it was a magic moment."
In the earlier game for the bronze medal, Germany defeated Brazil 2-0. The United States had beaten Brazil 1-0 in the semifinals. Before that, the American women had played China to a 1-1 tie and beaten Nigeria 3-1.
Last month, the U.S. women played a contest against Russia at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis as part of the team's "Road to Glory" tour, winning 7-1 on two goals by Milbrett. After the game, Russian coach Yuri Bystritsky said, "I think we played the future Olympic champions."
It turns out he played the future Olympic silver medalists.

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