- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

ATHENS — When the final whistle blew, an exhausted Mia Hamm was quickly swarmed by 17 thrilled teammates. A few minutes later, an Olympic gold medal was hanging around their necks.

Hamm and the rest of the “Fab Five” had just enough left in their thirtysomething legs for one more title, beating Brazil 2-1 yesterday in overtime in their final tournament together.

“I can’t think of a better group of players that I’d want to stand out there and compete with,” Hamm said. “They carried me tonight, that’s for sure.”

Abby Wambach scored in the 112th minute with a powerful 10-yard header off a corner kick from Kristine Lilly. It was Wambach’s fourth goal of the Athens Games and 18th in her past 20 games.

The game marked the final competitive appearance together for the remaining players from the first World Cup championship team in 1991. The five helped bring their sport to national prominence and captured the country’s imagination by winning the World Cup in 1999. Together, they have played in 1,230 international matches.

Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett are retiring from the national team — although they might play in some farewell exhibitions this fall — leaving Lilly and Brandi Chastain as the last of the old guard. Hamm, who attended Lake Braddock High School in Burke, plans to start a family with her husband, Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

“I talked about feeling good about where I was in my life, and this is a great way to end it,” Hamm said.

Yesterday also was a notable one for the United States on the track, where Shawn Crawford led an American medal sweep in the 200-meter dash.

A chorus of whistles and boos delayed the race for four minutes, largely because those in attendance had expected to see countryman Kostas Kenteris, the disgraced Greek hero and defending Olympic champion who withdrew from the Games during a doping scandal.

But Crawford kept his composure, took the lead off the turn and finished in 19.79 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year and a personal best. Bernard Williams tied his personal best of 20.01 seconds for silver. Justin Gatlin, the 100-meter champion, won bronze in 20.03.

Dwight Phillips added to the U.S. haul, leading a 1-2 American finish in the long jump with NCAA champion John Moffitt taking silver.

It gave the United States a total of 18 track-and-field medals, just two behind its total from the 2000 Sydney Games, with the relays and several other events still to come. Russia is next on the track with nine medals.

There were mixed emotions on the pitch, too.

The retiring women’s soccer stars left happy with the final result, but they might not want to watch a replay of a game that showed that it was perhaps time for them to hang it up.

The Americans were slower, less organized, less creative and lost the chase to most of the loose balls against the young Brazilians, who weren’t afraid to shove the U.S. stars around.

Pretinha scored for Brazil in the 73rd off of a rebound, and the South Americans twice hit the post later in regulation, coming within inches of what would have been the winning goal.

“We were bending, but we weren’t breaking,” U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry said. “They were throwing the kitchen sink at us, but I knew we had the heart to win it.”

Hamm especially was a nonfactor, unable to find space to make the kind of runs that made her famous. She had no legs left in overtime of the 266th game of a 17-year career that included a world-record 153 goals.

The U.S. team was rescued by Wambach, some great saves by Scurry and a goal by Lindsay Tarpley, one of two college players on the team, in the 39th minute.

“Tarp and I, it’s the least we can do for the women who have meant so much to us,” Wambach said.

After the game, the team took a victory lap, waving flags to the crowd of 10,416 at Karaiskaki Stadium.

Hamm clenched her fists under her chin and looked to the sky with teary eyes after arriving behind the podium for the medal ceremony. Foudy, Fawcett, Hamm, Lilly and Chastain stood together at the far left — making them first on their team to receive medals.

Hamm blew a kiss to the crowd when her name was announced. Foudy smiled and helped lead the fans in a chant of “U-S-A.”

Brazil received its first women’s soccer medal after finishing fourth at the past two Olympics. Germany, which beat Sweden 1-0 in the third-place game, took the bronze.

The win helped erase the sting of the loss to Norway in the gold-medal game in Sydney four years ago and a third-place finish at last year’s World Cup. In the 1990s, the United States ruled women’s soccer, but the other teams have caught up in the past five years.

The victory also offers a measure of vindication for coach April Heinrichs, who took over after the 1999 World Cup triumph and failed to win the top prize in the 2000 Olympics or 2003 World Cup.

The team was captained for the last time by Foudy, who played the entire 120 minutes just three days after spraining her right ankle in the semifinal victory over Germany.

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