THERE is nothing we like more in Scotland than claiming celebrities or major sporting figures as our own on the flimsiest of pretexts. Happily, when it comes to tartanising US Olympic women’s football team captain Christie Rampone, the link is not tenuous.
When the 37-year-old defender leads the defending Olympic champions out on to the Hampden turf on Wednesday for the first event of the, eh, London games she is sure to feel a sense that she is communing with her heritage. The Glasgow ground may be the home of Scottish football but Stark’s Park, the country’s oldest footballing stead is where her great grandfather Bill Dowie made his way in the game. “Scotland is where my soccer history comes from,” says Rampone, whose family name is the Scottish-sounding Pearce.
Dowie was a keeper with the Raith Rovers from 1905 to 1915. He enjoyed a distinguished career after debuting at the age of 19, an archive report from around that time gushing over his being a “veritable octopus in goal” with “marvellous fistic prowess”. These attributes helped him contribute to the club’s Scottish Qualifying Cup win of 1906 and Second Division championship the next year. Dowie, whose home in Kirkcaldy High Street was where the British Home Stores outlet is now situated, played 130 times for the club before emigrating to America as a 34-year-old in 1920.
Rampone knew little of this history until the US team played in Scotland last March. “I then got talking with Aaron [Heifetz, team press officer] and he got in contact with the federation and they dug little bit more. They gave me an article about my great grandfather and a picture. It just gave me a little bit more history. It’s pretty neat. I knew I had a lot of Scottish in me, I just didn’t know how big it was.”
With the US team in ‘lockdown’ and under heavy security in Glasgow’s Hilton hotel base ahead of their opener against France, Rampone will not be able to make the pilgrimage to Stark’s Park. Rovers did invite the entire squad to take in the game against Dundee United today, but the US captain will have to make do with tales from the family’s visit. “My mother and her brother and sister are coming over for the first two games and they will go to Kirkcaldy. They didn’t know when their grandfather had come to America and it’s about putting all the pieces together.
When it comes to the professional and personal life of Rampone, the pieces form together to create a remarkable picture. Over the next month she will be competing in her fourth Olympics, with golds from the last two. She won the World Cup in 1999 and has finished no lower than third in the eight major tournaments she has competed in. Her 260 appearances total makes her most capped women’s internationalist currently active. She is the only mother in the US team, with two daughters, aged six and and two. And she says at 37 she feels fitter, quicker and more agile than ever, despite having being diagnosed with Lyme’s disease a year ago.
Proving herself against ever-younger and faster forwards is what keeps her motivated to cotinue and the US team are the favourites for Olympic gold, despite their World Cup final loss to Japan last year.
“As a defender there are always amazing forwards and that challenge gets the adrenalin going,” she says. And the zest for competition she hopes can propel her all the way to the next World Cup, by which time the 5ft 6in defender will be 40. “It is in Canada, so it is close to home,” she says. “I have to get invited, so it will be up to the coach. The way I’m feeling, why give it up if I don’t feel my body letting go?
“I’m enjoying every moment. I’m not over-training, listening to my body and am more effective. With children, you don’t have all this time during the day, so you’ve got to manage the balance. I do want to retire on top. I don’t want to have a coach tell me it’s time. My whole life I’ve been pretty honest with myself. It’s not that if we win this I’m going to say ‘I’m done’. It’s more, I’ll see what the family think.”
Rampone’s reputation says much about how male athletes and footballers are allowed to represent themselves while their female equivalents must somehow serve their gender. Countless articles refer to her role model status for sporting mothers and in 2010 she was voted ‘most respected mom in sport’. No male footballer has ever been judged for his parenting skills but Rampone says she likes the fact that her family life is given such prominence in her public profile.
“When you become a mother you take on that role. The kids are with me all the time. When I travel they’re with me. They’ve clocked up as many miles as I have. For me, yes we get paid, but do we get paid enough to have a nanny? No way. US soccer have been great in allowing the children to come but they only have a nanny for training and meetings. A mother naturally takes on more responsibility... from the birth, the feeding, through to them being clean.
“My husband’s around an awful lot and if he didn’t take a helping hand then there is no way I’d be able to be here. The way we travel and how much we travel, there would be no way to keep the family together. So it is awesome to hear that people appreciate that you have two careers. That’s what I want to relay back in America: that I am living my dream by playing soccer as my job and I’m not giving up being a mother either.” In her believing it to be awesome that she is living the dream, maybe the Scottish genes really have been well and truly submerged.