Hamm ponders life after soccer

Updated: August 21, 2004, 10:56 AM ET
Associated Press

THESSALONIKI, Greece -- It was a classic Olympic moment. A Greek journalist, meeting Mia Hamm for the first time, asked if she felt like a star.

After a laugh, a shake of the head, and probably too much thought, Hamm did her best to answer. "I think I'm recognizable,'' she said slowly.

She cited the U.S. team's success for raising her public profile, then looked at the journalist. "I probably would be more recognizable than you,'' she offered good-naturedly.

The exchange, in the casual setting of the athlete's hotel lobby, was the catalyst for an introspective conversation with the world's most famous women's soccer player. Hamm offered her thoughts on fame and life after international soccer, a life that begins after these Olympics.

Hamm's last U.S. game could come as early as Friday, when the Americans play Japan in the quarterfinals. It will be her 264th appearance, and she'll be looking to add to her world-record tally of 153 goals.

Why quit now?

"I'm old,'' Hamm, 32, said with a smile.

She then repeated most of the reasons she's given before: it's the right time, soccer is no longer the be-all and end-all of her life, it's three years until the next World Cup and she wants to leave at the top of her game.

"There are moments I'm sure in your life where you've been in a certain environment, whether it's work or in college, and you're just like, 'Gosh, I need to move on.' And that's where I am,'' Hamm said.

What will she do now?

"I don't know,'' she answered quickly, flashing a huge smile. "Isn't that great? The fact that no one has to tell me that I have to eat at 9 and 1 and 6:30 anymore is OK. I mean, I'm not frightened. Are you frightened about the fact that I don't know what I'm going to do?''

After a lifetime in the sport, Hamm said she was unsure if she would stay in soccer, perhaps as a coach.

"I don't know. Once I'm done, I'm going to see what happens,'' Hamm said. "Some people might have their lives planned out. We hear about young kids, when they're younger they want to go to this college and become a doctor. I've really lived day-to-day, and it's not something I'm spending a lot of time on.

"Maybe after the new year, I'll think about what's there.''

Hamm planned to do whatever possible to revive the WUSA and didn't rule out returning to play in the league, but it's clear that's not her top priority.

"Right now I have a husband and a family I'd love to spend time with,'' Hamm said. "And I have the ability to do that. I've been, for the past 17 wonderful years, seeing my family for maybe a month out of the year. I have sisters who are having kids, and I want to participate in their lives rather than them saying, 'I saw you on TV.'''

The husband is Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and their courtship and marriage last year brought back the famous smile that was too often missing a few years back. Hamm now wants to start her own family.

"There's no set date as to when that's going to happen,'' she said with a nervous chuckle.

Hamm never appeared at ease discussing personal matters, and she gently chided reporters for showing more interest in her private life than the upcoming game. She enjoys the anonymity of traveling abroad, and accepts her life as a celebrity in the United States.

"The uneasiness probably I have with it is that people expect you to be so different from them,'' Hamm said. "And you almost feel like you let them down when you're not. I get this all the time: 'What are you doing at the grocery store?' Well, you buy food, right? I'm like, 'Should I not be here?' "

The interview ended with Hamm saying it would "unbelievable'' to win a second gold medal, but there was a unique postscript. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the most powerful man in world soccer, walked up to Hamm as she was about to leave.

They greeted each other European-style, with three kisses on the cheek. "I'll see you at the final," Blatterer said. "We're going to try,'' Hamm replied.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press