NEW YORK -- A few months ago, U.S. Women's soccer team captain Christie Rampone came to our SB Nation studio and sat down to talk about her life, her career and her anticipation for her fourth Olympics, this time in London.
I was surprised at how candid she was and how much insight she gave about their loss to Japan in last year's World Cup final. On Thursday, Rampone, 34, and her teammates will be trying, in part, to avenge that loss when they take on Japan for the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics. Only a year removed from the difficult defeat -- which Rampone said "hit me hard" -- it was clear that Rampone and her teammates were hoping for this rematch. And Rampone said that the stakes are even higher in London.
"I'll always remember that feeling on the field... not finishing it off and knowing with all of my experience how hard it is to make it to a final," Rampone said. "Especially the World Cup where every other country -- that's their tournament. The Olympics is more I think of, for Americans. It's what we dream about being involved in and playing in. For a lot of the Europeans, a lot of the international soccer teams, it's the World Cup and to be on that stage and realize how close we came and kind of let it slip away, I don't want it to slip away again."
Here is the rest of our conversation, edited for clarity.
Amy K. Nelson: You guys talk about [the loss to Japan] with each other?
Christie Rampone: Oh yeah, you know it's definitely something that we continue to talk about because we don't want to forget it. But at the same time we don't want to dwell on it. We've played Japan a few times, it's our new rival. They're, I would say, the China of '99 if everyone remembers back to the early years. They are an amazing team, they play well together, they're so skillful and for us as Americans, we just can't get frustrated playing them, we gotta' outsmart them and go after it. We can play in the same system, we know what to do it's just going out there and making sure we play soccer and dictate the game instead of it coming to us.
AKN: Soccer has a tradition of having great sportsmanship. One thing I've always wanted to know is how hard is it to stand on that field -- [Rampone starts laughing, and says, "Yes."] It's a huge disappontment, many of you are crying, it's just a very emotional time. How do you stay on that field while the team next to you is being presented with the top prize?
CR: Well it's, it's definitely tough, you know especially in that environment. The fans are going crazy, you know you come out, not on top, and you have to be respectful for the game, and especially playing Japan. It was a tough game, you know they definitely deserved it that day so you have to be appreciative to the sport and what they've done and respect what they've done and kind of just swallow it while you're out there, especially when the confetti's going everywhere, everything's going crazy.
That's the time when you just have to self evaluate and say 'OK as a team this is stuff that we do that we call in our bubble. You know, this is where we lose it in the locker room or lose it together. No one needs to see you taking it out on somebody else or losing it, or tears and not respecting the game, so you put on that happy face and you know you're hurting inside. You know you're definitely -- internally it's killing you that you lost this big game and you know you're looking up to your fans in that section that just came over for you and spending all this money and supporting you and you feel like you've disappointed them.
Especially America, you feel like we let everybody down but you go back into the locker room and everybody loses it there. You re-evaluate and you kinda get ready for the next one and remember those good moments. And we have been very fortunate -- we've had a lot of great moments and remembering how it felt to be on top, to be on top of the podium and kind of win with grace and you've gotta lose with grace as well.
AKN: Is there a moment that stands out to you within that bubble in Germany?
CR: Yeah, you know it was, for me as the leader, I had to kind of grab the team together and we did something that was a little different, is after we lost [but] before the presentation, they wanted the team to line up in two and to have Japan walk through us and at first it was like, I knew it was not something that any athlete wants to do is to basically thank the team by cheering them on as they just beat you. But it was something that we respected the rules. ... So I went and talked to everybody and [said] 'I know this isn't really what we want to be doing right now but yet, you know if we're gonna lose to anybody you know, Japan and everything they've gone through in the devastation [of the tsunami] let's just respect the sport. [And even beyond the sport] and just what they've been through and dealt with and let's graciously give them the celebration they deserve.
And then it was in the locker room after that.
AKN: What happened there?
CR: It was tears, frustration, yelling... just everybody getting it out and that's at that point is like everybody's frustrated. You know you just can't blame it on anybody; it's just get it out there, get the tears out, get all that frustration cause everyone always says you work so hard week after week you deserve it. You know, everybody deserves it, everybody deserves to be in a final.
AKN: It must be such a primal thing, though --
CR: -- We deserve it, yes --
AKN: -- that moment when you're able just to [hand motion]
CR: -- Oh it's like, it's almost just like between silence and then just every emotion to come out because, you've, especially in sports, you train so hard, not even that year or two years -- it's from when you begin -- you start playing at age 5, all the way up to, leading you up to there so it's just every experience counts to that moment at that point. It's devastating, it's heartbreaking, and, it's something that you grow together as a team. As much as a lot of people don't want to hear it, sometimes when you fall, you build together and you know you build it back up and you know, you're almost there you feel that emotion, you break down in front of each other, you see each other's weaknesses, and then you grow from there.