On a team relatively devoid of tattoo ink, Megan Rapinoe sports a pair of discreet markings.
The delicate cursive on her left biceps, visible if she raises her arm to the sky or extends it like a wing, says: “Nature ran her course.” Her other tattoo is placed on the palm side of her right wrist. Written in Arabic, it says, “Trust yourself.”
“I was born the way I was,” said Rapinoe, who is expected to be one of the key players for the top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team when it begins its run for a fourth gold medal against France in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 25. The soccer competition for the London 2012 Olympic Games starts two days before the Opening Ceremony.
For Rapinoe, (pronounced ruh-PEE-no) 27, of California, it will mark her first trip to the Games. She suffered consecutive anterior cruciate ligament tears in her knee that sidelined her for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
There are many ways to describe Rapinoe, who is dynamic both as a player and a person. Electric, magnetic, super talented but also — even by her own recognition — inconsistent. But for the U.S. Olympic Team, the big news is that she is healthy.
Asked to describe the blonde known as “Pinoe,” U.S. goalie Hope Solo laughed at first. It's clear we're dealing with someone unique here.
Videos posted on YouTube are dedicated to Rapinoe's highlights, her eccentricities of celebrating goals. And also a simple trick in which she repeatedly bounces the ball on her head during warm-ups.
“Her own person,” Solo finally said.
Another teammate, Tobin Heath, called “Pinoe” an “artist both on and off the field. The field is her playground and there are no rules.”
Rapinoe has shown she is fearless both on and off the field. Earlier this month, Rapinoe announced publicly in an article in Out magazine earlier this month that she is gay, and hopes she can use her celebrity to have a positive impact on others.
“People probably guessed that I was gay because I'm pretty transparent in the way that I live my life,” she said in an interview with USA Today. “I think it's pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports, because there's really not that many out athletes. I think it's important to be out. It's important to stand up and be counted and be proud of who you are.”
On the field, Rapinoe plays with the same verve: fearless and confident. It has helped her but has also been problematic.
U.S. women’s soccer coach Pia Sundhage lets on the feeling that "Pinoe" has caused more than a couple of gray hairs in their time together. Sundhage previously has benched Rapinoe from the starting lineup, yet still relied upon her.
Good thing Rapinoe was the type of player at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany who could feel the sting of the demotion but still stay focused enough to be a catalyst.
She could miss a point-blank shot, which she did in World Cup, and still press on. A lot of players might have been wounded from the moment and never recovered. Not Rapinoe.
Her fame rose way beyond her borderline magical hair when she set up Abby Wambach’s game-tying goal with a wildly accurate cross from the left flank, which Wambach headbutted into the far post in the 122nd minute of a thrilling quarterfinal victory against Brazil.
It was the latest overtime goal in Women's World Cup history; the stuff of legend.
Rapinoe then converted one of the penalty kicks in the shootout, not letting the adrenaline — or the previous missed chance on net — get the best of her after one of the United States’ marquee international moments.
“Yeah, life's been a little different since then,” Rapinoe said. “But I think it was the kind of game that brought a lot of good things to the entire program.”
Rapinoe said she expects this international experience to be even more of a tingle than World Cup, because of the magnitude of being part of a much larger contingency.
It remains to be seen how much she'll let her personality show. Will the supposed decorum of the Olympiad win out?
She has previously mimicked singing “Born in the U.S.A.” while a teammate joined her with an air guitar. Boss, indeed.
Ah, yes, if only the United States, Sundhage and teammates knew what they were going to get.
There are five wing midfielders to work with, and although Rapinoe has been a starter lately, she will have to compete with Heath, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O'Reilly and Lauren Cheney, who replaced her for a large chunk of the World Cup.
Rapinoe saved some really good stuff for the team’s final Olympic tune-up, June 30, a 2-1 victory against Canada in Sandy, Utah.
The corner-kick specialist knocked some deft beauties near the net. She also helped give the United States its first score, curling a ball near the net from the right side, about 20 yards out. It was deflected for an own-goal against Canada.
Rapinoe was easily a fan favorite in Utah, in part thanks to some of those flash moves. Later in the first half, she juked a defender along Canada’s end line and nearly knocked in another goal.
“A confident Megan Rapinoe is a very difficult person to play against,” Wambach said.
Rapinoe had a crossing pass that set up the winning goal, as well, and she was named the player of the game.
“It was absolutely unbelievable for us,” Rapinoe said. “For me, I was just trying to take the space I was given and create opportunities.”
Sundhage isn't playing her hand just yet, but points out that each midfielder option offers differing skills. So opponents and team chemistry could factor to make the combinations fluid.
Rapinoe admits it's “fair enough” for Sundhage to question her consistency, both in games and training. But she can be equally strong on both sides of the field, because of her strength and accuracy off either foot.
In Utah, she played on the right side, where she could more effective dominate the perimeter and line.
Fondness is clearly there, too, as Sundhage sounds almost motherly describing the on-field quirks of one of her best talents. You take the good, which outweighs the bad most of the time, and hope that on the game's biggest stage that it all works out.
“She is different,” Sundhage said. “She can drive you crazy with her decision making out there. And sometimes she is just genius. Megan could be one of the best players in the world. It all comes down to what kind of game she brings in those 90 minutes. Sometimes she can come up with some magic stuff ... unpredictable, yes, but a world-class player for sure.”
Rapinoe said: “I think (Sundhage) knows she can count on me in the biggest moments.”
And in the end, that is all that matters.