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Posted at 11:08 AM ET, 04/14/2008

Soccer Players on Olympics and Politics

First press conference of the pre-Olympics summit involved the women's soccer team. First few questions were about, you know, Coach Pia Sundhage's experience with the Chinese national team, the changing of the guard, the new coaching philosophy, and so on.

Then came the political questions. That's going to be a theme. Their basic response: sure we have political opinions; sure we want the world to be a better, more peaceful place; but, you know, we're trying to win a gold medal. They talked about how much you're asking of an athlete, to not only perform as best they can on the field, but to be educated and wise enough to navigate these political waters.

Abby Wambach said she's been contacted by some protest groups, and the players said they're humans, with all sorts of human political opinions, but that they're not necessarily looking to man the barricades.

"Not every athlete wants to be an activist," as Heather O'Reilly put it.

Here's O'Reilly, for example, on the torch protests:

"I was a little disappointed that people are forgetting, I guess, the positive things of the Olympic games, the tradition involved, the Olympic spirit," she said. "I think if there needs to be change in the world, it's more than putting a torch in the water."

Abby Wambach was nodding her head, and then she spoke up.

"And to add to that, I think it's really really important to note that, moving forward, you're going to probably ask almost every athlete these questions," she said. "And we are athletes, and we're going over there to play a sport, and we hope to make change, we hope to make an environment to bring the world together, but that's a lot of responsibility to ask an athlete to not only go over there and perform and win an Olympic medal, but also to have these political views....

"Yes, there's a time and a place for everything, and likewise, we have to use the platform to benefit, speaking positively about things and trying to find the good in things, but it's surely a lot, a lot, a lot of responsibility to undertake as an athlete, and I hope everybody understands that."

She had made a similar point earlier.

"For me personally, I think what's important to note is that our first and our main focus for training right now is preparing to go over to Beijing and to win a gold medal," she said. "That is our main focus. Are we humans? Do we also have consciousness in our minds and in our hearts? Yes. We hope to represent our country to the best of our ability, and in doing so bring awareness to peace and team unity and bringing the world together."

But, she said, the team can speak loudest "by winning the gold medal and by representing the United States in the best way we know how."

Kate Markgraf, meantime, said she doesn't want people to forget the wonderful Olympic spirit and the sappy Olympic stories.

"I can't wait to read those stories," she said. "Especially NBC, and they do those montages with the good music in the background, I think I well up every time....Our favorite phrase is, 'It is what it is.' "

By  |  11:08 AM ET, 04/14/2008

Categories:  Olympics

 
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