Heading into the London Summer Games, Hope Solo has found her celebrity status enhanced by appearing on the covers of Vogue (with Serena Williams, a rare honor for a female athlete), and on Fitness magazine. Solo appears in a gold swimsuit on the Vogue cover, while adorning a stars and stripe bikini for Fitness.
While beautiful on both covers, her celebrity status must not be a distraction for the US soccer team. Since the retirement of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain from the US Women’s Soccer program, Solo has become the face of USA Soccer. As a goaltender, Solo is in a pressure packed situation, which only increases when a goal is allowed.
During the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo became the media darling of the event for Team USA. She parlayed her popularity by appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, revealing her physique in ESPN’s Body Issue, and displaying her sex appeal as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Maxim Magazine recently named her the sexiest athlete of the 2012 London Games.
Of note, Alex Morgan also gained popularity after the 2011 World Cup. She was in the 2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in only body paint. In addition, she was listed as one of Maxim Magazine’s hottest athletes for London 2012. On the soccer pitch, it is of great importance that the newfound celebrity status of Morgan, Solo, and others does not interfere with performance.
London 2012 marks the return of Solo to the world stage since the 2011 World Cup. Any failure on the part of USA Soccer will not only spell disaster for the program, but tarnish Solo’s image as a celebrity. In early July 2012, a warning from the US Anti Doping Agency that Solo tested positive for the banned substance Canrenone in a urine test must not prove to be a harbinger of misfortune. Although Solo may be the most popular player on the team (and she provided full co-operation to the USADA), it is important that said popularity does not lead to resentment in the locker room should struggles emanate early on.
During the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Solo criticized then head coach Greg Ryan for benching her in favor of Brianna Scurry for a semi-final game versus Brazil. After being dismissed from the team and not participating in the post-2007 World Cup tour, Solo could have easily quit the team. Instead, her gold medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games led to redemption, while her endearing perseverance in 2011 made her an American hero, and an unexpected role as a celebrity.
Should the USA endure any initial struggle, it will be up to Solo to act as a true leader and ensure that the disappointment of 2007 does not repeat itself. As a role model, sex symbol, and world class athlete, the London Games will define Solo’s career as one of greatness, or one of unmet expectations.