Mia Hamm: The US football icon hailed by Pelé as one of the best ever

Few in football have as many accolades as Mia Hamm. During an illustrious career, the forward won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals, alongside a plethora of individual honours.

Hamm was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002, US Soccer Female Athlete of the Year five years in a row, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year in 1997 and 1999.

She has been inducted into every Hall of Fame going, and was even included by Brazilian legend Pelé in his list of the greatest living footballers.

With Hamm turning 50 today, GiveMeSport Women looks into why she is considered one of the best players to grace the football pitch.

Early life

Hamm was born in Alabama in the United States in 1972. She was born with a club foot, and wore corrective shoes as a toddler.

Her father was an Air Force pilot, so her family lived on various military bases around the world. Hamm first played football while living in Florence in Italy, and she quickly fell in love with the sport.

Aged five, while living in Texas, Hamm joined her first football team. She excelled as a player, competing on the boys’ team while at high school.

It was not long before Hamm was playing for the national team. Aged 15, she represented her country at the 1987 US Olympic Festival, becoming the USWNT’s youngest player of all time.

From 1989 to 1993, Hamm attended the University of North Carolina, and helped the Tar Heels win four NCAA Division I titles in five years.

Halfway through her time at the University of North Carolina, Hamm was told a piece of news every football player wants to hear. She would be representing her country at the Women’s World Cup.

International success

Hamm was selected to play for the USWNT at the 1991 Women’s World Cup in China. At 19, she was the youngest player in the squad.

She scored the winner in the US’s opening match against Sweden, a 3-2 victory. Her team went all the way to the final, where they defeated Norway 2-1.

It was Hamm’s first World Cup title. She went on to earn a second in 1999, playing in the iconic final against China at the Rose Bowl in California. In total, Hamm featured at four World Cups.

Her international career also brought her two Olympic gold medals, clinched at Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004.

In 275 appearances for the US national team, Hamm scored 158 times. In fact, she held the record for the most international goals scored until 2013, and she remains in third place behind former teammate Abby Wambach and Canadian striker Christine Sinclair.

Towards the end of her career, Hamm was involved in the launch of the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first professional women’s soccer league in the United States.

Hailed as the star of the league, she played for Washington Freedom from 2001 to 2003, winning the WUSA title in her final season with the club.

Off the pitch

According to Forbes, Hamm was the most marketable female athlete of her generation.

During her career, she signed endorsement deals with Gatorade, Nike, Dreyer’s Ice Cream, Pepsi, Nabisco, Fleet Bank, Earthgrains, and Powerbar. She featured in adverts, on magazine covers and TV shows, and was even once referenced in an episode of Friends.

Hamm is also known for her work in philanthropy, setting up the Mia Hamm Foundation in 1999 after her adopted brother Garrett died due to a rare blood disease.

The Foundation spreads awareness about bone marrow diseases, raises funds for bone marrow transplants, and creates opportunities in sport to empower women.

Hamm is still involved in football, and is an ambassador for Barcelona FC. She is also a co-owner of MLS team Los Angeles FC, and recently invested in new NWSL outfit Angel City FC.

After all, it would be strange if one of the best football players of all time was to disappear from the beautiful game entirely.

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