The U.S. Women's National Team player was an alternate in 2016. Now that the games are postponed, "the idea of going has become even more sacred to me.”

By Sam Reed
Updated Apr 20, 2020 @ 3:30 pm
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Samantha Mewis thought 2020 would be her year.

I mean, same, but I’m not a professional athlete fresh off a World Cup win with the Women’s National Team. The 27-year-old Mewis wanted to capitalize on her momentum and compete for the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team, which has a smaller, and therefore more competitive, roster than that of the World Cup Team. But on Mar. 24, after weeks of speculation, the International Olympic Committee announced that the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would not carry on as expected in August due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

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Instead, athletes must wait until 2021 to compete in the games for which they’ve trained for months — er, realistically, years. Many potential competitors the world over were disappointed by the postponement, and while Mewis understood the call that had to be made, she couldn’t help but feel as though the Olympics were a slippery beast that she couldn’t quite get the best of.

“It definitely feels like I was close, and I might have had this opportunity to make [the Olympic team],” Mewis told InStyle (over the phone, because social distancing), “and it kind of feels like it’s continuing to evade me.” Four years ago, in 2016, a 23-year-old was chosen as an alternate for the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Olympics roster. And while she trained with the team, attended team meals, and stayed in the hotel alongside the rest of the women in Rio, Brazil, she watched the games from the stands. “I think that coming so close to making the roster in 2016 has made it even more special,” she says. “The idea of going has become even more sacred to me.”

Since then, her star has only continued to rise. She played professionally for the New York Flash, which in 2017, relocated under new ownership and became the North Carolina Courage. The same year, she was a finalist for the National Women’s Soccer League MVP, and in 2019, she played six of seven games in the women’s World Cup in France, which the U.S. ultimately won (despite the president’s doubts).

If there was ever a time to finally make her Olympic dreams a reality, it seemed like it would’ve been now.

“But obviously, it’s not about me,” concedes Mewis. “People are dying and there are so many more important things going on in the world that sport is coming second right now.”

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While on an international football level, the World Cup may hold more prestige than an Olympic Gold, there’s something about being a part of the U.S. Women’s Olympic team that holds a special weight, especially for young soccer players who grew up in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. The U.S. Women’s National Team of the time was the stuff of legend: Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and Julie Foudy were household names. Even my could-care-less-about-soccer older brother knew Chastain as “that lady who took her shirt off after the penalty kicks.” In other words, a hero.

“I grew up watching the U.S. Women’s National Team win Olympics,” says Mewis, also recalling their infamous ‘99 World Cup win. “They were so successful throughout my adolescence. So the Olympics, for me, has always been a really big event for soccer.”

Though she’s too humble to have come close to admitting it on the phone, Mewis and her teammates — Megan Rapinoe, Ashlyn Harris, and Alex Morgan included — are on a path to establish that same legacy for themselves, the spirit of Chastain’s sports bra moment alive and well in Megan’s viral “have you not been entertained?” pose. The Olympics, perhaps, would have solidified her place among the crew.

For now, waiting another year before she can try out for the Olympic team means another year to train, which has been somewhat compromised during self-isolation: "We have kind of a little home gym set up, we have one kettlebell, but we’re doing the best that we can," Mewis says.

“I think the tension around making the team has been building over the last four years,” she adds. “My no. 1 hope is that as many people as possible stay healthy, and that we can get rid of this disease as quickly as possible. And I hope that we’ll have enough time to get back into the form that we’ve been in and prepare for a tournament all together.”