By John Philip Wyllie
Three years ago, when she was starring for the league champion Bonita Vista High School soccer team, Lina Valderrama had no idea where her love for the sport, determination and talent would take her. Last month, she found out.
Valderrama, received the opportunity of a lifetime this summer when she was selected to represent Mexico in the just completed 2004 Summer Olympics. It marked the first time that Mexico had ever participated in women’s Olympic soccer and Valderrama and her teammates made the most of it.
Mexico became a surprise participant after eliminating heavily favored Canada in March in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Placed into a group that included World Cup Champion Germany and 1999 World Cup runner-up China, Mexico appeared to be the longest of long-shots to advance into the knock-out round. But advance they did after drawing 1-1 with China and then getting the nod based upon a goals-against advantage in their game against Germany.
“The term underdog motivated me a lot,” Valderrama said in a Wednesday phone interview. “Before we left, I had it in my mind that we were going to do a good job and be the surprise of the Olympics. Considering how far we got (the quarterfinals), I think it was a surprise to everybody.” Valderrama believes the March victory over Canada provided the key to Mexico’s success.
“After we defeated Canada, everybody became more confident. I think from now on we will give Canada a good battle. In fact, I can’t wait until the next time we play them.”
With Canada and Mexico playing in the same region along with the United States and many Central American and Caribbean nations, she won’t have long to wait. In the meantime, she can relax and reflect upon her Olympic memories.
Heading into the Olympics, security and the threat of terrorism were major issues, but the thrill of being selected and the anticipation of participating put such worries out of her mind.
“They had a lot of security people over there. We saw soldiers everywhere we went, so that was comforting. We never really thought much about the threat of terrorism. We met a lot of nice people and played in three different cities. Living in the Olympic village was fun and we enjoyed talking to the other athletes. The whole Olympic experience was unforgettable,” Valderrama continued. “It was great to play against the people that you watched in the last Olympics. None of us ever thought we would participate in one, but our dream came true.”
Valderrama believes that Mexico’s Olympic success may lead to future opportunities for the next generation of female Mexican athletes.
“These Olympic Games are going to open a lot of doors (for women’s soccer in Mexico). There are a few teams now, but they haven’t been very well supported. Thanks to what we did over there in Greece, I think that there will now be a lot more support.”