Hope Solo’s remarks show the Olympics don’t always bring out the best

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is the at center of a controversy after her condescending remarks following a loss to Sweden.
(Daniel Oliveira / EPA)

In a stadium far north of the Olympic heart, a goalkeeper spewed ugly.

“We played a bunch of cowards,” Hope Solo said. “The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

In a news conference room in the center of the Olympic soul, a mom spread grace.

“We started talking to [Simone] about how swimming isn’t just going to be about her,” said Sharron Manuel, the mother of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the United States. “She will have to share that gift with the world and it will carry a message.”


In the stadium, the goalkeeper reacted to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s stunning Friday afternoon shootout loss to Sweden by epitomizing the word she had assigned the Swedes. Hope Solo ran from responsibility and accountability like a coward.

“Sweden dropped off, they didn’t want to open play, they didn’t want to pass the ball,” Solo said. “I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.”

In the news conference room, the mom reacted to daughter Simone’s historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle the previous night by epitomizing wisdom and grace. Sharron explained how she had spent years preparing Simone for this milestone moment.

“As an 11-year-old she did come to me asking . . . why she had not seen many others like herself in a sport of swimming,’’ Sharron said. “I said . . . I don’t know, let’s look it up, so we got on the Internet. . . . That was the moment she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”


Like the sports it celebrates, the Olympics doesn’t build character, it reveals it. In an illuminating few moments about 600 miles apart Friday, the world saw America at its best and worst.

It started with a loss, of game and dignity, from a classless goalie who never should have been on this Olympic team. Hope Solo should have been long since booted for, among other things, a domestic violence charge that is still unsettled. But U.S. Soccer needed her to win last summer’s World Cup, and now it is paying the price for needing her again.

She has been booed in Brazil for sending tweets about the threat of the Zika virus that Brazilians found offensive. She struggled earlier in the tournament by allowing two goals in a surprising tie with Colombia. Then, with the U.S. trailing in the shootout in Friday’s 1-1 quarterfinal tie with Sweden, she changed her gloves in an attempt to ice Sweden’s Lisa Dahlkvist. A smiling Dahlkvist then kicked the ball past her to clinch the win.

“I think it was very cowardly,” Solo repeated of Sweden’s effort, which seemed quite the opposite.


Here’s hoping the 35-year-old Solo won’t be on the U.S. team much longer. And here’s hoping the 20-year-old Manuel is just getting started.

The best of the Olympics can be found in the strength she showed after she was co-gold medalist with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in a dead-head finish. Manuel courageously spoke about the symbolism of her achievement. After all, this was a sport that once evoked such racial stereotyping that former Dodger general manager Al Campanis was fired for publicly saying, “Why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Manuel charged directly into the issue, saying: “This medal is not just for me, it’s for some of the African Americans who have come before me and had been an inspiration. . . . The title ‘black swimmer’ makes it seem like I am not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, I’m not supposed to be able to break the Olympic record, and that is not true.”


Manual added, “It means a lot especially with what is going on in the world today. Some of the issues with police brutality. This win kind of brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on in the world.”

This sort of honest examination from a 20-year-old made her mother proud. Wearing a denim shirt with a faded American flag on the back, and carrying an American flag in her left arm, Sharron Manuel beamed her way through her first news conference while her daughter was still competing.

“We have always kept an open dialogue to communicate to her the importance of who she was and what she was doing and the possible impact she could have,” said Sharron Manuel, who with husband Marc raised three children outside of Houston.

She said she only pushed Simone into swimming because, with all the pools in Houston, she was afraid her children would drown. As Simone became more accomplished, Sharron admitted she increasingly felt the cold stares and invisible barriers.


“I think we did, because to say we didn’t is to say it doesn’t exist, and we did feel that,” she said. “Although it was unspoken, there were times we could feel there were some uncomfortable levels around you.”

She said she dealt with it by always encouraging her daughter to be herself. “We talked to her about the importance of doing what she’s doing because she loves it,” Sharron said “. . . If they have a problem with her, that’s their problem, don’t make it hers.”

Sharron said that as her daughter grew up and eventually left to attend Stanford, she increasingly realized that she was moving through the water for something more than just a medal.

“I think she has realized for quite some time this will be a vehicle that will be used for her . . . to deliver messages,” Sharron said.


In moments of mixed messages at the Olympics, one was hollow, and one rang true. One was about Hope, and one was about hope.

Twitter: @billplaschke



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