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Hope Solo says her motivation is to win medals, not friends. Nothing better illustrates how far female athletes have come. Gone are the days when women had to be dedicated and demure; dazzling, but in a way that did not threaten society's norms. The indelible image from the 1999 World Cup was Brandi Chastain resplendent in her sports bra: the model athlete as the athletic model-type. The indelible image from 2011 was Hope treading glumly toward the awards podium to accept her silver medal: the competitive model-type as the model competitor. It is not a subtle difference. Progress is a female role model who is not sugar and spice and everything nice.
The 2011 U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team was to the 1999 squad what Sex and the City was to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mia Hamm, the face of the 1999 team, was a female archetype in the mold of Mary Richards: spunky and self-effacing, her popularity owing as much to her ability to fit in as the skills that set her apart. Hope is a post-feminist figure along the lines of Carrie Bradshaw: fearless and forthright, stunningly gorgeous and muscled, driven to succeed on her own terms.
Hope's story is a cross between The Glass Castle and A League of Their Own. Her father was a philanderer and a conman throughout her childhood. He was imprisoned on charges of embezzlement, and drifted into homelessness before re-uniting with Hope in college. Hope brings the same non-judgmental eye to her upbringing that Jeanette Wells brought to her acclaimed memoir. Much has been written about Hope's close-knit relationship with her father, who was outwardly an unconventional parental presence. Behind many successful female athletes there's a devoted dad and Hope was no different, only her story bends the familiar arc of that theme like a Megan Rapinoe corner kick. Hope's relationship with her dad, in all its sweetness and sorrow, is the central dynamic in her memoir. He not only taught her the game but also instilled in her the athlete's mentality that defines her.
Hope's repeated triumphs over adversity - from her benching during the 2007 World Cup, after the sudden death of her Dad, to her return to the pitch after shoulder surgery - will resonate with readers of all ages. Hope has never played it safe, which is what makes her a fitting archetype - as an athlete and a woman - for this moment in time.
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