Mia Hamm (1972- ) was perhaps the world’s greatest female soccer player of her era, scoring more goals in international competition than any other player, male or female. Hamm led three American teams to Olympic medals, and in the United States she helped bring women’s soccer into the spotlight in the 1990s, becoming the most recognizable face of the sport and encouraging a generation of American girls to play the game.
Hamm, Mia Mariel Margaret Hamm was born on March 17, 1972, in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama, to Bill and Stephanie Hamm. Her mother nicknamed her “Mia” after renowned ballerina Mia Slavenska, under whom she had studied. She was born with a partial club foot that required her to wear casts for two years until it was corrected. The family moved frequently due to her father’s job as a U.S. Air Force pilot, and Mia fell in love with soccer when the family lived in Italy. The Hamms moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1977, where Mia began playing in soccer leagues and further developed her skills, spurred by encouragement from her older adopted brother, Garrett. At age 14, Hamm joined an Olympic development soccer team in Dallas and was noticed by Anson Dorrance, coach of the U.S. women’s national team who also coached the women’s soccer team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). In 1987, the 15-year-old Hamm became the youngest player ever to play for the U.S. national team.
Hamm graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, in 1989 and joined Dorrance at UNC. In her first two seasons at UNC as a forward she led the team to consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles, scoring more than 20 goals each season. She sat out the 1991 college season and instead returned to the U.S. women’s national team, sharing in its 2-1 victory over Norway in the first ever Women’s World Cup. In 1992 Hamm returned to UNC, where she helped lead the team to NCAA championships in 1992 and 1993. Hamm was named first-team All-American, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year and National Player of the Year three times. Her total of 103 goals and 72 assists set records. Hamm graduated in 1994 with a degree in political science and that same year married Christian Corry (whom she later divorced), a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1995 the U.S. national team lost to Norway 1-0 in the World Cup semifinals but eventually took third place, defeating another rival, China 2-0. In 1996 Hamm joined the U.S. team at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, where the U.S. defeated China 2-1 for the first Olympic gold medal awarded for women’s soccer.
Hamm’s popularity continued to grow during the 1990s. She was included in People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue in 1997 and earned endorsements and television appearances that briefly elevated her to the superstar status of the likes of basketball great Michael Hamm, Mia Jordan, with whom she co-starred in a television commercial. Hamm hit her peak in 1998 when she scored 20 goals and had 20 assists. The following year the U.S.-hosted 1999 World Cup was a media sensation in America, as the U.S. advanced through the tournament and defeated China on penalty kicks in overtime. In the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Hamm scored the lone goal against Brazil in a semifinal game to advance the team to the final. In that match the U.S. lost to Norway 3-2, but earned a silver medal. Hamm next spearheaded the creation of the Women’s United Soccer Association in April 2001 and led the Washington, D.C., Freedom to a championship in 2003, after which the league was disbanded. In addition, she played on the 2003 World Cup team, which earned third place, and the 2004 Olympic squad, which defeated Brazil 2-1 for the gold medal in Athens, Greece.
Mia Hamm retired at age 32 in 2004 with 158 goals and 144 assists in international play. She co-wrote with Aaron Heifetz the book Go For the Goal: A Champion’s Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life, published in 1999. That year she also established the Mia Hamm Foundation with a twofold mission of increasing sports opportunities for young women and supporting bone marrow transplant patients (Garrett Hamm died of complications from aplastic anemia in 1997). For her professional accomplishments, Hamm was named player of the year in 2001 and 2002 by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), one of FIFA’s 125 top living players, and was a nearly unanimous selection to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in February 2007. Hamm, who resides in Los Angeles, married Major League Baseball shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in 2003 and gave birth to twin girls in 2007.
Gin, Willie. “Mia Hamm” in Current Biography 60 (9): 36-38.
Smith, Gary. “The Secret Life of Mia Hamm: In the divided souls of the world’s greatest female soccer player, the shy, self-critical athlete is locked in mortal combat with the relentlessly driven superstar.” Sports Illustrated (September 2003): 58-73.