U.S. Olympians: "We're There to Play"

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There's no greater honor for an amateur athlete than winning an Olympic gold medal, and representing their country at the highest level of competition.  While the Olympics are a sporting event, much of the media coverage surrounding the 2008 Olympics in Beijing/st1 :city> hasn't been about the athletes, but the politics./span>

From activists like Mia Farrow who consider these games to be "the Genocide Olympics," to the Tibetan activists who have made their presence known along the Olympic torch relay, there's no shortage of people who have their grievances with China/st1 :country-region>.  There's also no shortage of media coverage surrounding these controversies. /span>

Although the tens of thousands of Olympic journalists will not just limit their attention to the sporting competitions alone, it seems that much of the general coverage of Olympic controversies omits some of the most significant players: the athletes. /span>

Over the weekend, I spoke with many players, coaches, and fans of the women's U.S./st1 :country-region> field hockey team, who will be competing in the Olympics for the first time since 1996.  For many, competing in the Olympics has been a lifelong dream. /span>

Team captain Kate Barber has had "an Olympic itch" since she watched Mary Lou Retton compete in 1984.  She's been part of the U.S. National Team for over a decade, and narrowly missed qualifying for the the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.  She says "missing the past two Olympics has been pretty heart-wrenching and difficult to swallow, but it’s made it all worth it."/span>

Barber says the U.S./st1 :country-region> field hockey program has come a long way, and she wants many of the younger players to share her Olympic dream.  "It's something that's driven me over the years," she says, "and I want to develop that in the younger players.  We've come a long way, and that's part of our drive."  /span>

Assistant coach, Shellie Onstead, narrowly missed making the Olympic team in 1988, but today, "twenty years later I've come back to achieve my dream."  She looks forward to Beijing/st1 :city>, and performing well at the Games, and says a major change occurred in the team when "we stopped talking about qualifying for the Games.  We started talking about winning a gold medal, and that's completely legitimate." /span>

The Netherlands Argentina and Germany the top three teams in the world, will be stiff competition for the 11th-ranked U.S./st1 :country-region> team, but head coach Lee Bodimeade is confident that the team will have a successful games.  A few weeks ago they beat Argentina/st1 :country-region> in three out of four games, and Bodimeade says "being under everybody's radar" is a huge advantage for the team.    /span>

The 16-member team, which was just announced on Sunday, will head to Germany/st1 :country-region> this July 4th to compete against some of the world's top teams before the main event in August. 

No matter what external challenges they might encounter, whether protests or pollution, the team is pressing on towards the gold.  

Watch the video for comments from coach Lee Bodimeade, and players Amy Tran, Kate Barber, Kayla Bashore, and Carrie Lingo. 

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