US captain Rampone considering 2015 World Cup
U.S. captain Christie Rampone is no longer so sure she'll retire after the London Olympics.
Her coaches are trying to persuade the defender to stay on the women's soccer national team through the 2015 World Cup in Canada - the summer she turns 40. And Rampone, a mother of two, is considering it.
''I am feeling great,'' she said Thursday, ''but the reality is I want to walk away from the game enjoying it.''
The way she's feeling on the field now, Rampone still could be enjoying competition at the highest level for another three-plus years. But off the field, all the travel that comes with national team commitments is a strain on her family.
Her older daughter started kindergarten after last summer's World Cup, and this soccer mom knows she can't just pull her from school for every faraway tournament. So Rampone, who also has a 2-year-old daughter, will take some time after the London Games to decide whether to continue a career that stretches back to 1997.
The competitor in her has plenty of motivation to keep playing. The Americans lost last year's World Cup final in excruciating fashion, twice blowing leads before falling on penalty kicks to Japan.
The U.S. hasn't been able to defeat the Japanese in two matchups since, and Rampone relishes trying to figure out how to win against them.
''It's not beating them with speed; it's not beating them with strength, which is great because I've come to the level now of playing smarter soccer,'' she said.
While Rampone is in great shape, what excites her most about her current level are the calm and composure of experience.
''Being able to go out there and just feel relaxed and play - you play with so much more confidence, which makes you a better player,'' she said.
At the 2004 Olympics, U.S. soccer greats Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett scripted a perfect finish to their careers with a gold medal. If the Americans win a championship again this summer, Rampone could go out on top, too.
But there's also the temptation of trying to lead the United States to its first World Cup title since 1999. Rampone is the only current member of the national team to have won a World Cup, though she played in just one game in '99. If she stays on through 2015, she'd become the oldest U.S. player to earn a cap; former teammate Kristine Lilly retired at age 39.
''Obviously in sports, not too many people get to actually choose when they retire,'' said Rampone, who is now co-captain with star forward Abby Wambach. ''I was like, `That would be absolutely amazing to follow in Mia and Julie and Joy's footsteps, where they actually chose to do it.' The timing was perfect for them. That's why I don't want to stretch it beyond my capability.
''I always kind of saw my future ending like that. But you can only hope for that.''
Rampone was in Manhattan on Thursday for an event with U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor Citi, which is donating $500,000 to various sports programs. Fans can vote through social media on how the funds will be allocated among the organizations chosen by 13 American athletes.
Runner Sanya Richards-Ross and swimmer Cullen Jones reminded the crowd at Thursday's event that they each still have to make the Olympic team. Richards-Ross won gold in the 1,600-meter relay in 2004 and 2008 but is still seeking her first individual Olympic gold medal.
''Definitely some unfinished business,'' Richards-Ross said. ''Hopefully I can take the `un' off after August.''
The 2009 world champion in the 400, Richards-Ross thought she might retire after London when injuries led to disappointing seasons the last two years. But off to a strong start to 2012, including a world indoor title in the 400 last month, Richards-Ross is thinking about the 2016 Games.
Her husband, NFL defensive back Aaron Ross, hopes to have kids soon. Richards-Ross has watched enough athletes, like Rampone, become mothers then return to competition even stronger that she sees no reason she can't do both.
''I feel renewed, invigorated,'' Richards-Ross said.
Jones was part of one of the most memorable moments of the 2008 Olympics: the 400-meter freestyle relay. He swam third before Jason Lezak's stunning comeback in the anchor leg led the Americans to gold and kept Michael Phelps' record medal chase on track.
That was Jones' only event in Beijing: He finished third - one spot out of qualifying individually - in the 50 and 100 free at trials.
''To be completely honest with you - I love being with the team, being with the group, being on the relay. But my goal for London is definitely the individual,'' Jones said.
Jones is more comfortable in the 50 than the 100 - while both events are all-out sprints, they're different sorts of challenges physically. But after the U.S. finished third in the 400 relay at last summer's world championships without Jones, who had a tough season, several coaches told him the country needed him as a force again in the 100.
''That hit me like a stack of bricks,'' he said.
Now he's feeling good about his level in the 100, too. Just in time, because Wednesday marks 100 days until London.
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