- Mia Hamm became the face of women’s football in the 1990s
- She helped USA to two Women’s World Cup titles
- But Hamm was uncomfortable in the spotlight that her status brought
It was dubbed ‘Mia Mania’.
Women’s football had its first genuine superstar and, wherever Mia Hamm went, she found an army of young, eager and adoring fans. However long it took, she would ensure that every one of those autograph and photograph-hunters would leave with a memento of having met their idol. ”It’s very important for young girls to have female athletes they can identify with,” Hamm would say.
But the USA icon was a reluctant celebrity. “I’m not a real extrovert,” she admitted at the time. “As a kid I was usually in the background. It was easier for me to communicate with people through sports and get to know them that way. Sports were a way for me to fit in.”
Hamm, of course, ended up doing a lot more than merely fitting in. She excelled, and by the stage this photograph was taken in 1995, was well on her way to becoming the most important female athlete of her generation. Not that such accolades ever sat comfortably.
“Mia didn’t want the tag ‘best player in the world,’ even though, when she was on, there’s no question she was,” said Tony DiCicco, her former USA coach. “She had the ability to cause people to hold their breath. It was a lot like what Michael Jordan did in basketball.”
DiCicco wasn’t alone in drawing the Jordan comparison. Indeed, a famous ‘Mia v Michael’ TV commercial pitted these legends against each other in a variety of sports, and concluded with Hamm flipping the basketball icon in a judo manoeuvre.
Mia in Numbers
- 276 international appearances
- 158 international goals
- 2 FIFA Women’s World Cup winner’s medals
- 2 Olympic gold medals
- 2 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year awards
- 5 successive US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year awards
Hamm fully merited such esteemed sporting company. She possessed skill, speed, athleticism and elegance in equal measure, and ended her career having scored more international goals than any player, of either gender. For a period she was, like Jordan, peerless.
When Abby Wambach claimed that scoring record in 2013, she admitted to feeling unworthy of surpassing her idol. “When I look in the mirror I don’t see a person who’s made the kind of impact that Mia Hamm made on the game,” Wambach told FIFA.com at the time. “What she did for women’s soccer can’t be measured. In a perfect world, and if I still didn’t have a World Cup to win, I would have retired the day I tied her.”
But while Hamm might have been the Jordan of women’s football, she did not possess her fellow icon’s swaggering, unshakeable self-confidence. Team-mate Lorrie Fair described her as “the most humble superstar I’ve ever seen”, while DiCicco said that coping with a lack of confidence had been his star player’s “life work”.
For many, the fact that Hamm conquered the world despite such insecurities simply made her more admirable, and easier to identify with. That was reflected in the crowds that would descend, and in the subsequent generations of female footballers who still cite her as an inspiration.
Did you know?
Hamm was one of the most marketable athletes of her era, and one of the many products her face adorned was this Nintendo 64 computer game. ‘Mia Hamm Soccer 64’ is one of innumerable unique items on display at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.