For many athletes, there is one common goal: an Olympic gold medal.
All around the world, children grow up watching athletes compete against the best in the world and all for the honor and glory of standing atop the medal podium, gold medal around their necks, listening to their country’s national anthem playing.
The Olympics is the pinnacle of some athletes’ careers, especially for those without a professional league for their sports. For others, such as soccer, that have both professional leagues and other major tournaments of their own, the dream of Olympic gold is still very much real.
"For myself growing up, you never heard about a World Cup. It was always coming home with a gold medal, being in the Olympics. You always think like, you do three or four sports in one day, you pretend it's the Olympic and having that Olympic dream of coming home with a gold medal was something that I aspired to do as a goal and never thought I would ever accomplish it, especially in the sport of soccer because it wasn't around growing up," said four-time Olympian Christie Rampone, former United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) captain.
Rampone, who currently plays for Sky Blue FC, is not the only Olympian—past or present—on Sky Blue’s roster. Since Sky Blue FC was founded during the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league, there have been more than 20 players who played for both Sky Blue and an Olympic team at some point during their careers.
Currently there are five Olympians rostered with the New Jersey-based club team. Kelley O’Hara and Samantha Kerr will be competing with their national teams this month in the 2016 Olympics, while Rampone, Tasha Kai and Jill Loyden were all part of previous Olympic games.
Kelley O’Hara will be competing in her second Olympic tournament, having won a gold medal with the USWNT in the 2012 Olympics in London. After being moved from the midfield to the back line after outside back Ali Krieger tore her ACL during the Olympic qualifying tournament, O’Hara became a fixture on the field, playing every minute of the tournament for her country.
After limited playing time back in the midfield during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, O’Hara was moved to outside back, eventually winning the starting right back spot from Krieger. Back in the starting XI, O’Hara will no doubt see major playing time in Rio and will be helping to lead the USWNT in their quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal. If O’Hara and the team are successful, they will become the first team to ever win back-to-back World Cups and Olympic gold medals.
On the USWNT with O’Hara are four players who were rostered with Sky Blue FC during its WPS days: co-captain Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, Allie Long and Heather O’Reilly. In their opening match of group play, the USWNT will take on New Zealand and Erin Nayler, the Football Ferns’ goalkeeper who was rostered with Sky Blue FC earlier this season but departed the team before logging any minutes with the club.
Samantha Kerr will be making her Olympic debut as a forward for the Matildas, the Australian Women’s National Team (AUSWNT) in this summer’s games. The Matildas have only competed in two previous Olympics, in 2000 when Australia hosted the games in Sydney and again in 2004. The team failed to make it out of group play in 2000 and was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Sweden in 2004.
After an impressive performance during the 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament, though, many fans are considering Australia a dark horse to medal in these games and consider them one of the biggest threats to the U.S. returning to the top of the medal stand. Now that Kerr seems to have almost completely recovered from foot surgery back in November, she will likely be a major component of the Aussie attack.
Former Sky Blue FC players Caitlin Foord, who was with the team from 2013-2015, and Lisa De Vanna, who played in 2013, should also see significant time on the field for Australia in these summer games. Their opening match is against Canada and former teammate Sophie Schmidt, who will be making her third Olympic appearance.
For the first time since 2000, the USWNT Olympic roster is without Christie Rampone on it. The USWNT won gold in the very first Olympics in which women’s soccer was included, but Rampone was not capped with the national team until a year later, in 1997. However, Rampone would go on to win silver with the USWNT in 2000 and gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Despite rumors of retirement buzzing after the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, Rampone was considering trying for a spot on this year’s Olympic roster, but she underwent knee surgery back in December and felt it had not recovered enough to compete at the international level. She declined an invitation back to USWNT camp at the end of May, also ending a bid for one more Olympic games. Despite the decision to not push to make the Rio roster, Rampone said winning gold for the U.S. is an amazing feeling.
"Winning a gold medal is just an unbelievable experience. For me it's not actually that moment when the final whistle blows. It's the journey on getting there and, you know, the hard work and the ups and downs and the good and the bad days, brings it all together when you get that medal around your neck on the podium," she said.
Standing with Rampone on that medal stand in Beijing in 2008 was Tasha Kai. Kai, a native of Hawaii who was with the USWNT from 2006 to 2009, scored the game winning goal in overtime of that tournament’s quarterfinal, sending the U.S. on to the semis. The USWNT would go on to win that tournament, and Kai would get her gold medal.
"I definitely think my favorite memory was the last game. Standing on the podium, hearing the national anthem and seeing our flag on top, wearing the gold medal and having my family there was probably the best memory I could ever ask for. It's something I can't really describe. I mean, it's one of the highest honors for me and my family, for the US and also for the state of Hawaii," Kai said.
Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Jill Loyden, who recently made the move from assistant coach to rostered goalkeeper after Caroline Stanley sprained her shoulder, also traveled to London for the 2012 Olympic games, but in a different capacity. Loyden was the goalkeeper alternate, meaning she was not a part of the official 18-player roster but traveled and trained with the team and, in case of a serious injury to one of the two rostered goalkeepers, could take her place on the roster.
Regardless of medals won or minutes played, the Olympics is an experience unlike any other.
"I think my favorite moment was, I was only able to do it once, was going to the opening ceremonies and being around all the other Olympic athletes and seeing how powerful and dominant we are as a country and the fact that everybody's putting this energy and effort and commitment and sacrifice into representing their country and doing the best they can to make everybody proud and happy back home. It gives you the chills when you're there in the presence of so many amazing athletes," Rampone said.
The Olympics isn’t the only place where players can be in the presence of amazing athletes. With a history reaching almost as far back as Olympic women’s soccer, Sky Blue FC is another place where you could be in the presence of greatness.
The AUSWNT opens up Olympic group F play against Canada on Wednesday, August 3 at 2 p.m. EST. The USWNT will take on New Zealand in their first game of Group G play on Wednesday, August 3 at 6 p.m. EST. The USWNT games will be aired on NBC and NBC Universo and streamed online at nbcolympics.com. The other group stage matches on August 3 will be aired on NBCSN.
Sky Blue FC in the Olympics
|Player||Sky Blue FC||Country||Olympics|
|Eniola Aluko||2011||Great Britain||2012|
|Anita Asante||2009-2011||Great Britain||2012|
|Karen Bardsley||2009-2011||Great Britain||2012|
|Melanie Booth||2013||Canada||2008, 2012|
|Lisa De Vanna||2013||Australia||2004, 2016|
|Rosana dos Santos Augusto||2009-2010||Brazil||2000, 2004, 2008, 2012|
|Jonelle Filignos||2014-2015||Canada||2008, 2012|
|Tobin Heath||2011||USA||2008, 2012, 2016|
|Tasha Kai||2009-2010, 2016||USA||2008|
|Carli Lloyd||2010||USA||2008, 2012, 2016|
|Jill Loyden||2013-2014, 2016||USA||2012 (alt)|
|Kelley O'Hara||2013-2016||USA||2012, 2016|
|Heather O'Reilly||2009-2011||USA||2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 (alt)|
|Christie Rampone||2009-2010, 2013-2016||USA||2000, 2004, 2008, 2012|
|Sophie Schmidt||2013||Canada||2008, 2012, 2016|
|Therese Sjögran||2011||Sweden||2000, 2008|
|Kacey White||2009||USA||2008 (alt)|