Brandi Chastain will forever be remembered for one of American sport’s truly iconic moments: Ripping her jersey off in celebration after connecting on the World Cup-winning penalty kick for Team USA at the Rose Bowl in 1999.
But Chastain, of course, is about so much more than that one moment. Now retired from international competition, Chastain is keeping busy. She’s in London serving as a color commentator on women’s soccer games for NBC during the Olympics and is an Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup (www.capitalonecup.com, www.facebook.com/capitalonecup), which annually recognizes the best NCAA Division I men’s and women’s athletics programs.
The Big Lead: As we speak, you’re in Hollywood on the morning of the ESPY, for which you’ll appear representing the Capital One Cup. What made you decide to partner with the Capital One Cup, and what does it mean to you be involved?
Brandi Chastain: “I’ve always loved sports, not just soccer. I loved them, I watched college sports and professional sports, all of them. I had the great pleasure of participating in college athletics at the Division I level. I love that what they’re doing in promoting both men’s and women’s sports, not just the big sports, but really showing how important the athletes in cross country, soccer, each one had the ability to impact the race. And then, there’s the $400,000 pool for scholarships. These student-athletes are all pushing it to the limit on the field. But they’re going to be our future doctors, lawyers and teachers. It’s important we remember that.
TBL: Stanford claimed the women’s Capital One Cup for the second straight year. I know they were your rival in college, but, what have they done right?
BC: Well, they have a huge endowment, for one. They do a lot of things right, I think they also embrace idea that life in the classroom extends to every aspect of your life. They take it very seriously. So you tip your hat to them, offer them congratulations and then go out and try to catch up to them.
TBL: This wasn’t your first time at the ESPYs. I’ve always been interested in hearing stories about elite athletes meeting one other for the first time at these events. Have you had any memorable meetings over the years?
BC: The thing I love most about being at ESPYs is the mutual respect exists among the athletes. Everyone who competes at an elite level can appreciate all the hard work and dedication that goes into it. Whether you met them 100 times, or are meeting them for the first time, it’s awesome.
I got the chance to meet Robert Griffin III. He’s in the news, he won the Heisman Trophy, he’s about to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. I was about to introduce myself, and he stopped me. He’s like ‘you don’t have to introduce yourself, everyone knows who Brandi Chastain is’ and then he went and introduced himself to me.
It’s such wonderful camaraderie, The first time you meet someone like Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, even though I didn’t play hockey or basketball, you realize just how much you learned from watching them compete. It makes me feel like I’m a teenager again.
TBL: The Olympics are capturing the world’s attention this summer. You competed in three Games. Talk about the experience of being an Olympic athlete.
BC: “I think everybody is different. I’m learning a lot about difference between team sports and individual sports. There’s a difference between sports that are judged as opposed to those that are objective and have a clock and a goal. Each athlete’s approach is unique. You have to have balance. You want to experience the opening ceremonies, if it falls in line with your competition schedule. You can’t experience something like being a part of the Olympic ceremonies anywhere else.
Things happen at the Olympics to inspire you. Look at the Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss, he started his nonprofit called “Right to Play,” he’s enhancing and changing lives. Also inspired, I’m in the process of starting my own charity called “Reach Up,” it’s going to be a foundation that will enhance and celebrate organizations that promote and encourage sports. These are the type of things that are inspired by your Olympic experiences.
TBL: In your Olympic career, you got to win a gold medal here in the U.S. at the Atlanta Games, you competed in Sydney and you won another gold in the Olympics’ birthplace in Greece. Do any particular memories stand out after all these years?
BC: There are a lot of standout memories. Most of them center around my teammates and how amazing they are. But going to that first opening ceremony in Atlanta … as soccer players we don’t usually live in the Village, so to go and walk and your compatriots, wearing your outfits, I mean, looking back at them now, that hat, the long shirt, stockings, it was a pretty ridiculous outfit. But you’re all in it together.
I remember waiting to go into the opening ceremonies and seeing Monica Seles, Serena and Venus Williams, these are the athletes I admire. That was one of the greatest memories, walking with Team USA, and everyone being on the same team. Being involved in soccer, especially in ‘96, which was the first time women’s soccer was ever in the Olympics, it was quite historical to be in that moment, the best among 100,000 million other ones.
TBL: You are working as a women’s soccer analyst for NBC during the Games. On the heels of last year’s memorable World Cup final against Japan, what can fans expect out of this year’s women’s national team in London?
BC: I feel, having spoken with Coach [Pia] Sundhage and players like Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe, that they’re excited and they’re focused. They know what happened last year in the World Cup was last year and it’s over. This is not about redemption for them. This is a new tournament and they’re going to work for a new outcome.
Of course the World Cup is motivating a factor but they’re not dwelling on the past. Coach Sundhage has also said that all players on the roster will make some type of contribution here, that everyone should prepare to participate and contribute, that’s a change from past teams.