Culture

Why The World Cup Final Means So Much For Women’s Sports

Last night's historical victory was a huge win for women in sports.

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Photo: @ussoccer_wnt Instagram

If you missed the first 20 minutes, you essentially missed half the game. From start to finish, both halfs were exhilarating to watch—but it was Carli Lloyd’s hat trick in the first 16 minutes that stole the show and put USA in a very early 4-0 lead over Japan. In the end, the U.S. Women’s National Team took home the gold, beating Japan 5-2 and winning their third World Cup, the most by one nation in history. USATF’s Instagram posted a mashup of Team USA’s win on the field with Team USA’s win on the track at the 2012 Olympics when they took home the gold—and the world record—in the 4×100 meters. In the caption: Strong Alone. Champions Together.

As runners, we acknowledge the endurance and speed it takes for this group of 23 women to average 7 miles over the course of 90ish minutes. It takes a bit more agility and coordination to dribble, slide and kick at the same time. As women, we appreciate the sweaty ponytails—short hairs sticking to necks, headbands keeping strays off the face—and the significance of a championship coming home with our women’s soccer team after 16 years. From a sport afterthought to a headliner match displayed on every television in every sports bar across the nation, this showdown blasted a women’s championship game to the forefront of every sport’s lovers mind—and the front page of every sports section. As American sports fans, we rallied by the thousands, decked in red, white and blue, to cheer on the squad the day after our nation’s 239th birthday and gave no regard to talks of scandal surrounding FIFA, the sport’s governing body. There were so many magical, historical moments that happened inside BC Place in Vancouver, Canada, last night that left their mark on sports, on women and on this nation. Sexist undertones—no, we will not wear tighter uniforms to boost ratings—and comments on appearances over ability were absent from the commentators’ vocabulary. The only highlighted attributes were the determination, speed and talent of this amazing group of athletes.

Related: What Running Looks Like For A U.S. Soccer Player

Here’s some moments that made last night even greater:

1. Carli Lloyd’s hat trick. The midfielder was a perfect 10 last night, scoring three of the five winning goals for Team USA. She rightfully earned herself MVP of the entire tournament after scoring the two quickest points—both in the first 5 minutes, separated by only 2 minutes(!)—in Women’s World Cup history. Her third goal was the play of the game, flying 54 yards, past the goalkeeper, into the net. That, my fellow runners, was the fastest hat trick in any World Cup, men’s or women’s. As one loyal fan tweeted, “USA just scored 4 goals faster than I can run a 5K…#whatislife.”

2. The feeling of redemption. During the last World Cup final in 2011, we lost to the same team, Japan, in penalty kicks. That’s like training your butt off for that one race you’ve eyed for months—for years, even—and missing your PR by one second. This year, Team USA had an unbreakable defense the entire game, led by keeper Hope Solo blocking all but two shots made by Japan. But seriously, they didn’t even get many chances to shoot. That’s like coming back to run that same race a year later and smashing your PR into oblivion.

3. The outstanding sportsmanship. I wouldn’t say I watch every single game in every single sport every single week, but I watch enough to know that the on-field conduct between both teams was excellent. As runners, we are blessed with a usually welcoming crowd around us; we all the know the pain, physical and mental, running can cause, so we support each other through the endeavor. We are in it together. And last night, the interaction between knocked-down, kicked-in-the-gut, flipped-upside-down players was on point—white helped purple up, and vice versa. They had seen each other four years prior, and respect between teams was visible and commendable. There was little to no malice in this game, just honest and audible happiness when USA won and visible disappointment and sadness when Japan was unable to defend their title.

4. Abby Wambach’s embrace with her wife. After winning the first World Cup of her career, Wambach raced to the edge of the stands and embraced her wife, a nearby spectator waving an American flag right next to them. Social media nearly overloaded with comments on that moment, coming not even a month after the Supreme Court’s historical ruling to make same-sex marriage legal in 50 states. For America, this encompassed so many things: freedom to marry, freedom to celebrate, freedom to love, and freedom to be damn proud to be an American. Indeed—look how far we’ve come.