Not everyone can say they have scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal match at the Olympic Games. Fewer can say they did it on home soil. And even fewer can say they did it during the first time the sport was a part of the Olympic Games. But Tiffeny Milbrett can. Her goal in the gold medal match against China PR at Atlanta 1996 made history for women’s football.
One can only wonder what kind of emotional experience a moment like that can be like. It is probably a combination of joy, jubilation, and ecstasy even. However, there is an emotion involved that you might not think about.
“Relief!” Milbrett said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “There was a ton of pressure on us. Our goal was to win it, but you have to understand as an athlete, you have a set of minimum standards that you must reach. We had to reach the final.
“Atlanta 1996 was a really cool experience because everyone was naive about it. We had never been a part of something that big before. We had never been a part of an Olympic Games before. Experiencing every moment of that was really pure, organic and very natural and very untainted.”
Milbrett explained how at the next Olympic Games in Sydney, preparations were more stressful and the players were less relaxed as they knew what was ahead. Whereas at the inaugural Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, the players were embarking on a journey into the unknown.
“When you don’t know what you’re a part of, you kind of don’t stress about the stuff you may know next time. In 1996, we had reached our dreams finally by being allowed to play in the Olympics. I remember a sense of all the players being absolutely relaxed, loose and happy.”
Fulfilling a childhood dreamAsked to describe what it is like to score such an important goal, Milbrett’s answer may surprise you. It is clear how focused the team was to succeed when you listen to her answer.
“Honestly, I did my job," Milbrett said. "My job as a forward was to score goals. After the fact, I can go, ‘Oh my god, I scored in a gold medal game!’ In the moment, I just felt like I was doing the job for the team. Scoring that goal was just a part of what the ultimate goal was in getting that gold medal around your neck. We had players who worked just as hard as I worked. Everyone played a part in being victorious that day.
“I remember hoisting the bouquet of flowers, standing on the podium. I actually remember the bouquet of flowers more than I remember scoring the goal! I didn’t hear the crowd once [Editor's note: 76,489 were in attendance], I didn’t even know they were there.”
It still hasn’t sunk in fully. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to realise a dream from very, very young.
Is there a moment when the significance of scoring a great goal like that fully sinks in?
“Probably it still hasn’t fully sunk in,” Milbrett said, 20 summers after that historic day in Atlanta. “I am constantly reminded of it though when people outside of myself are more ecstatic that I have a gold medal than I am! The difference is that I was the one who earned it.
“All I could ever dream about when I was eight, nine, ten years old was being an Olympian. That coming through [Milbrett pauses]—no, it still hasn’t sunk in fully. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to realise a dream from very, very young.”
Milbrett foresees a competitive Rio 2016Heading into Rio 2016, there will be hundreds of players chasing that dream. So how does Milbrett think USA will do in Brazil as they aim to make history by becoming the first team to win Olympic Gold the year after winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup™?
“We’re not short on talent,” Milbrett said. “I enjoy watching the team and following the growth of these young players. There’s no question we’re as athletic as all get-out, and we have good players.
“I think the rest of the world is teaching us a little bit more about the game of soccer and I think we need to get on board with that—in terms of creativity, the touches, the reading of the game, the subtleties and savvy—hopefully we can do a bit more of that. That’s really the only thing left I want to see at our top level.”
When asked for her pick to win the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio 2016, Milbrett turned her attention to a sleeping giant in Europe.
“For the last few years, I’ve been a big fan of France. The team and players are absolutely fantastic. They’re one step from becoming really amazing. I like the way they play.
“But at the end of the day, regardless of who might be No1 or who’s supposed to be the winner, you have to come to compete. You have to come to perform for those six games. There’s nothing like the Olympic Games. They can surprise you.”
The teams heading into Rio 2016 will do well to listen to Milbrett’s words. After all, she represents a new dawn for women’s football and she wore the very first gold medal in Women’s Olympic Football, even if it still has not completely sunk in for her.