Can Hope Solo focus on winning gold?

Hope Solo can’t stay out of the headlines.

In the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, Solo tested positive for a banned substance (which earned her a warning from the US Anti-Doping Agency), drew backlash for openly discussing the wild partying she and her teammates enjoyed in her last trip to the Olympics and most recently turned heads with some of the very personal revelations in her upcoming tell-all autobiography.

Yes, the most public face of the American women’s Olympic soccer team has managed to garner even more attention for herself. On the surface, it all seems like a long series of distractions for the star goalkeeper. But Solo insists that all the things going on in her world don’t distract her from the mission of winning a gold medal or the love she has for soccer.

“All my life, since the time I was little, has been a long distraction,” Solo said. “At least that is the way some people want to perceive it, but for me, it’s given me a lot of strength. It’s given me a lot of fortitude. A lot of the challenges that have given me the opportunity to really cut out those outside distractions.

“You fast forward to after the World Cup and we’re talking challenges like Hollywood and challenges like a dance show, and all these things can be perceived as distractions to certain athletes,” Solo said. “But all my life I have been able to handle them, and it only gives me that extra fight to keep pushing and prove everybody wrong.”

A year ago, Solo played through a shoulder injury to help guide the US women to a World Cup final, and perhaps more than any other member of the team, she parlayed that success into fame and public notoriety. She appeared on "Dancing With The Stars" and posed nude in ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue.

The past year since the World Cup has been like one big publicity tour for Solo, but she said that with the Olympics here, her focus is back on the game.

“This is what my life is all about, this is where my heart is and this is where my passion lies,” Solo said of playing with the US women’s national team. “All the other nonsense and all the bells and whistles don’t make me who I am. It’s not a part of my lifestyle, and it doesn’t breed happiness.

“Getting back here in an environment like this, and I’m talking about the main stage, a big tournament where you feel the nerves, the positive energy, you feel the tension that can rise and now we’re five games out from that big game,” Solo said. “That’s what I live for and that’s what I know and I love, so of course it feels good to be back, but to be honest I never really left.”

Solo came into the Olympics healthy and in good form, and it showed in the US team’s opening victory against France. Though the Americans’ defense allowed two goals in their 4-2 victory, Solo was solid in coming up with some clutch saves. US coach Pia Sundhage sees a player who has grown as a player a considerable amount since she helped lead the USA to Olympic gold in 2008.

“She has more experience than she had in 2008, and she has gone through ups and downs because of injuries,” Sundhage said. “I really appreciate the game with her feet; that will be very important in this tournament. Right now, she is in a good place, and it will be important that she plays well.”

“She is right on right now and you know her body’s feeling good and she’s mentally in a good place,” USA captain Christie Rampone said. “I think she’s really settled in in the last month and a half and back to her peak form, focused and ready to go.”

Solo acknowledges that the serious shoulder injury she played with at last year’s World Cup affected her overall game and caused her level of play to drop. But after shoulder surgery and a year to hone her craft, Solo is confident about what she will be able to do at these Olympics.

“Right now, I’m starting to feel well-rounded again,” Solo said. “I’ve gotten my foot skills back. I’ve gotten my distribution back, and my shoulder feels great. I’m feeling relaly good right now because I’m getting my footwork back and that’s what I’m known for."

Solo is known for much more than that these days. The fact is you could argue that she is more known for her off-field exploits than her on-field accomplishments. She will be looking to change that perception in the coming weeks as she tries to lead the USA to a third straight Olympic women’s soccer gold.

Solo has set aside the distractions of her increased fame to focus on that task, and if she plays as well as she believes she can, not only will the USA win gold again, but Solo just might also go back to being known for her soccer ability rather than for all the things going on in her life off the field.