The bitter memory of defeat is driving Megan Rapinoe and the United States women’s football team as they chase an unprecedented double at the Olympics.
Five years ago, the US women were bundled out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the quarter-finals, losing to Sweden on penalties in an upset that shattered American hopes of a fourth consecutive gold medal.
It marked the first time that the US has failed to reach the gold medal game since women’s football was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“It was terrible,” Rapinoe said. “It felt like total failure. We didn’t complete the task, we didn’t play well and it was a particularly kind of gutting loss in a lot of ways.
“It was really sad. We had a lot of people in their first major championships, so that was tough to go out as early as we did. I wouldn’t say it left a bad taste in our mouth — it left a fire under people to never let that happen again. It gave a lot of us motivation.
“Everybody who was in Rio does not want that to be their last Olympic experience.”
The ill-fated Rio campaign was a rare blemish on Rapinoe’s dazzling record of success at international level.
The 36-year-old midfielder is arguably the most recognisable member of an American women’s team that has dominated international football for most of the past decade.
A key member of the US team that won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, Rapinoe was also a pillar of the squads that won back-to-back women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019.
Since making her international debut in 2006, Rapinoe has accumulated 177 caps with 59 goals and 69 assists.
She will spearhead a US team in Tokyo which is on a 44-game unbeaten streak, having not lost a game since a 3-1 defeat by France in January 2019.
A gold medal in Tokyo would make the US women the first team to follow up a World Cup triumph with Olympic gold. As part of the build up to the Tokyo Olympics the US women recently beat perenial African Champions Super Falcons 2-0 in the Summer series in Texas.