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Tarpley and O'Reilly - A Young Olympic Experience

Midfielder Lindsay Tarpley (20 years old) and forward Heather O’Reilly (19) were teammates on the USA’s 2002 U-19 World Championship Team, slicing through the competition as two-thirds of the America’s “new Triple-Edged Sword.”  They combined for 10 goals (and O’Reilly had seven assists) during the tournament and both played a part in the “golden goal” in sudden death overtime to defeat Canada, 1-0, in the championship game in front of almost 50,000 fans, with O’Reilly keeping the cross alive and Tarpley finishing it to end the game.  They are teammates at the University of North Carolina, helping the Tarheels to a 27-0-0 record and the NCAA title last year and this year both have been named to the 25-player preseason watch list for the Missouri Athletic Club's Hermann Trophy, which honors the top male and female Division 1 college soccer players in the U.S. Now they are teammates on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, having survived and excelled during the USA’s three-month Olympic Residency Camp in Los Angeles following almost two months on the road during the first part of the year.   On the eve of the 2004 Olympic Games, the USA’s two youngest players sat down with and shared some thoughts on their experience, their journey to the brink of the Olympics and what they’ve learned along the way. It was only a little less than two years ago that you won the U-19 World Championship.   Now, you are getting ready for an Olympics, how do you feel you’ve grown as a person and player during that time?

Lindsay Tarpley: “I feel I’ve grown in a number of ways.  Obviously, Olympic Residency Camp helped me a great deal as a player and a person.  If you are in a controlled environment every day with such talented players you have no choice but to get better.  Moving out to Los Angeles, being in a completely new city and having to go to “work” every day in a professional environment, taught me a lot about who I am as a person.   I think I was more nervous for the soccer part than moving to a new city, but over the months, I got to a point where I used my nerves in a positive aspect.  I learned to use my nerves to build adrenalin to go out everyday and try to prove myself.  It’s not that I wasn’t nervous everyday, I just got to the point where I could use it to my advantage.”
“Also, my family was a long way away, so you had learn how to adapt to new situations on your own and bring traits to training every day in order to survive.  You have to be competitive, committed and ready to battle every day.  On the field, I always tried to learn as much as I could from the older players.  I feel I’ve inserted some of the things I learned from them into my game like the weight lifting program they follow, and some technical stuff, like how they strike balls and serve balls.  I am always going to treasure the time I had to spend with the veterans players during Residency Camp.” 

Heather O'Reilly: “I think one of the main ways I’ve grown is that I’ve realized now that a bad practice or a bad day isn’t the end of my career.  I think I’ve learned how to be more of a professional, I guess.  Not making rosters is tough, being injured is tough and having bad days at training is tough, but now, I don’t get as down on myself and upset when things are going wrong, because I think I’ve gained some perspective and insight.  I want a long career and I’m young still, so I’ve gotten better at brushing off things.  I also realized that it’s okay to be myself.  It’s okay to be younger and more naïve and goofier than the people around you.  On the field, the times that I tried to play like myself have been my best performances.  I think at times I got so caught up in focusing on the things I needed to improve on that I drifted away from the things I am gifted at.  I’ve learned it’s important to realize that everyone is here for a reason and that’s because we all bring different dimensions.   I have to make sure I keep bringing those dimensions to the field even as I try to improve the other parts of my game.” As the youngest players on the team, what do you see as your roles as during the Olympics?

LT: “I think I’m a versatile player and I can play a number of different positions and that definitely helped me earn a spot on this team.  Every game I’ll be ready to play and contribute, no matter how much I play or where, but if I don’t get in, I’ll be just as excited to contribute from the bench and support my teammates.  The beauty of soccer is that it’s a team sport and everyone has to contribute in one way or another in order to be successful.   I know I can contribute to winning whether I am on the field or not.”

HO: My role is going to be coming into the game and providing fresh legs and enthusiasm.  If we are down a goal, they might want to put me in to get behind defenses and create some scoring chances.  If we are up a goal, the coaches might want to put me in to preserve the other players legs, to chase on defense and preserve the lead.  I’ll be ready for anything they ask me to do or that the team needs, but I don’t want everything about me to be that I am just a hard worker.  I am an offensive player so I want to contribute to goals whether it’s scoring them, setting them up or creating scoring opportunities for others through pressuring the defense.” At such a young age, you are getting to experience your first Olympics.  Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?  What has surprised you?  What has been the most enjoyable part so far?

LT: “It’s been a really long journey and I remember the first day of Olympic Residency Camp when I looked up at the sign at the Home Depot Center that was counting down the days to the Olympics and 125 days seemed so far away.  Now it’s here, and it seemed like it went so quickly.  But to be honest, there has not been a lot that has surprised me.  Being a part of the U-19 World Championship and traveling to Europe and China and Portugal has prepared me for this.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the experience has been getting to know the team so well and really getting to feel and play like a team.  We are just enjoying each other’s company, joking around and bonding.  All throughout Residency Camp everyone was still great friends, but we all were competing for spots, so it was just a different feel.  Now, we’re playing for each other and we’re a team.   We have the confidence of a team, great team chemistry and we are just excited to play.”

HO: “My favorite part of the trip so far has been the Olympic Village and walking through there and seeing all the different countries flags draped over their balconies and eating lunch with world-class athletes from everywhere.  I just thought it was really cool with everyone having their country’s names on their backs, mingling together with the common goal of winning a medal for their country.  Not too much has surprised me, although it is a little hotter here than I expected, but it’s pretty hot in New Jersey so it hasn’t been that bad.”

“I think one thing that has been really special to me is getting a feel for the bigger world of sports.  In my world, everything revolves around the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, the UNC Tar Heels, the New Jersey Nets and the New York Yankees, but in the Olympic Village, it’s was just such a global feel.  Some of those people didn’t even know who Mia Hamm was.  It was an overall humbling experience, but also awesome to feel a part of the Olympic spirit with all those athletes.” You are jumping right back into your college life and season right after the Olympics.  Have you thought at all about that or are you more focused on the tasks at hand?

LT: “Of course I’m focused on trying to win gold with my teammates, but at the same time I’ve had to get some things set up in Chapel Hill so when I get back I have my apartment set up and classes to go to, but in all honestly, that seems like so far away right now.  I’ve told myself to not even worry about anything back there one bit right now and that I have to be focused on what we are doing here.  At the same time, I know when I get back I’ll be super excited to see my college teammates and play with them.”

HO: “My primary focus is the next three weeks, but I am just exited because I have a lot to look forward to in the next couple of years.  I have a great soccer environment to train in during the fall.  I really enjoyed playing for UNC last year under Anson (Dorrance), but to be honest, I’ve only been at school for like four months, so I don’t think I’ve gotten to have the complete college experience, because I’ve only been there a short time.  I’m looking forward to going into a college season not injured like I was last year, to just being there and enjoying college life.” You have won a youth world championship, played (Tarpley: 26, O’Reilly: 18) times for the U-19s, (Tarpley: 4, O’Reilly: 2) times for the U-21s and (Tarpley 25, O’Reilly: 25) times for the full national team, but do you think it will be different hearing your national anthem played before an Olympic match?

LT: “Definitely.  I’ve dreamed about being a part of the Olympics as long as I can remember. I was 12 during the 1996 Olympics.  It’s just a powerful moment because it signifies that you are representing your country during a major world event.  Being able to put your hand over your heart and knowing that you are a citizen of the America, I feel very fortunate to have that opportunity.”

HO: “I think so.  I think the concept that the origins of these games date back thousands of years and that we are on those same grounds is awe-inspiring.  With the modern Olympics, everyone has had so much pride, waving their flags, wearing their country’s colors.  In this kind of atmosphere, perhaps more than at any other time, you are proud to be here wearing red, white and blue.  We have played a bunch of games for the national team, but it’s just definitely different on the world’s stage.  It’s awesome to know that you are not just representing the women’s soccer team, but all of the U.S. Olympic Team and your nation back home."