Solo: The world hasn’t seen the best of me yet

Hope Solo is without doubt one of best goalkeepers in women's football. The veteran custodian has earned 193 international caps [correct as of 17 March 2016] with the USA national team and has emerged as the side's heroine on numerous occasions. The tall and powerfully-built shot-stopper, whose cat-like reflexes have frustrated countless strikers, won gold at three successive Women's Olympic Football Tournaments with the Stars and Stripes, and triumphed at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™ last year. There, Solo was also awarded the adidas Golden Glove as the tournament's best goalkeeper. chatted with the 34-year-old about her first encounter with football legend Mia Hamm, her own performances so far, her desire for perfection and another gold medal. Four years ago you said that 2012 was all about winning a gold medal. Now you have won Olympic gold three times in a row and last year you also lifted the Women's World Cup. What is your aim now? Hope Solo: In my personal opinion, all great athletes and footballers can never have enough medals and trophies. They're never satisfied with their game. They always want to make themselves better, they want to make their team-mates better and they want to win more. We play this game because we love it, but we love competition as well. I love to compete.

Are you satisfied with your performances so far? In my eyes the world hasn’t seen the best of me yet. I've played in a handful of major tournaments, whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup, but I don’t think I've ever played my ultimate best. I've had great moments here and there. I'm never satisfied and always want more for myself. I've always wanted to push myself to the next level. There's always something in my game that I want to work on to become better. The hard thing about being a goalkeeper is even if you are as fit as can be and as mentally prepared as you can possibly be, sometimes the game doesn’t allow you to make the play that you are ready to make. That's usually because your team is so great, or your defence is so great or maybe the shots are off [target]. Sometimes you want to do more but the game doesn’t allow you to do more.

What is next for you? I hope I'm able to perform at the highest level and at my best. The Olympics are around the corner and I hope they're competitive. I want some hard-fought matches. I want to show the world how well-prepared I am. But at the end of the day, if I don't make a save or touch the ball then I'm proud because I know that I've helped organise my defence. I want to show the world the best of me before I retire. I don’t know when that day is [laughs]. We rely so much on the World Cup, on the big stages for those moments. In the men’s game they get those moments every match because their leagues are so competitive. We're still building our league in America. I don’t get those kind of competitive games every year; we have to wait four years for the kind of competitive tournament we're all itching for.

It sounds like you really need the pressure… I like pressure. I think goalkeepers like pressure. A lot of great athletes do.

Do you think you can defend your gold medal in Brazil this summer? No team has ever won the World Cup and then turned around and won the Olympic gold medal. Doing something that's never been done – again that’s pressure – and if we do it we'd make history. It’s going to be a fun challenge for us. A lot of times teams probably don’t win the Olympics after winning the World Cup because you've played at the highest level, emotions are high, and you think: 'What can beat this? We're the best of the best.' It's hard to turn around and rise again to another occasion. For Brazil, our squad will go from 23 to 18 players, so it’s a completely different team. That’s what’s next; we're aiming for that gold medal.

When you first joined the senior national team do you remember anything you learned from the way the older players carried themselves and behaved? My first camp with the full team was in 1999. That was the Briana Scurrry, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain generation. I remember going in, just a 17-year-old kid, and thinking 'I have what it takes'. I was very athletically gifted but mentally I didn’t have it. I didn’t have the technique yet, the patience, the swagger or the confidence. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I remember having a training match among the squad. I took the ball and punted it to our forwards. Mia Hamm was the striker and the ball went straight up and then straight down, right to her. She stopped right in the middle and said: ‘I am not going to have that kind of a ball’, and lots of curse words, of course. She said: 'You'd better learn how to drop-kick the ball, otherwise I'm never going hit it.' I remember thinking: 'What is a drop-kick?' I just took the ball and kicked it. I learned that the forwards could control the ball better if I gave them a lower angle of a pass. I learned how to drop-kick and to this day I'm known as one of the world's best at it, to jump start our counter-attacks. I thank Mia Hamm for yelling at me when I was a 17-year-old kid and scared to death.

Sir Alex Ferguson always said his greatest strength was experience. How valuable are your experiences for the national team? Experience, especially in goalkeeping, is pretty much everything. You see a lot of goalkeepers who have the talent and make these incredible saves. Saves I perhaps couldn’t make. Then you turn around and they are letting in goals they shouldn’t be, soft goals. That shows the inconsistency of goalkeeping. It takes experience and a certain kind of mentality to really limit the amount of ups and downs, highs and lows in your game. And to read the game and keep your team organised. I've seen a lot of great goalkeepers who make a lot of great saves. You want to make the job look easy. That drives me crazy, especially in America. Sometimes the people just want that great huge dive. Dives are made for movies. That’s not great goalkeeping. You want efficiency and effortless work. That’s what I admire in goalkeeping. It’s about your angles, reading the game, putting your defenders in the right position and it’s about using your footwork and not always having to dive just for show.