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This article is more than 15 years old.

The games in Greece will give us champions and stars, and part of the fun of the Olympics is that we can't know who they'll be. Even television producers probably aren't entirely sure yet.

But we do know already that these games will give us our final opportunity to see some of this country's most successful and durable athletes at work together for the final time.

Briana Scurry, Brandi Chastain, Jay Fawcett, Cindy Parlow, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, and Mia Hamm will be playing in their third Olympics when the U.S. Women's Soccer Team meets the Greek team on Wednesday in Crete, two days before the opening ceremonies. Hamm, the soccer world's all-time leading scorer with 151 goals, has played in almost 260 matches for the national team. Kristine Lilly has played in over a dozen more.

More important to their fans than the impressive numbers is the attitude players like Lilly, Hamm, Julie Foudy and the rest have brought to their game. As members of the national team — some of them since the U.S. won the first Women's World Cup in 1991 — they have been endlessly, cheerfully accommodating to their fans.

It's too bad that the enthusiasm apparent in the play of these champions and others wasn't sufficient to carry the WUSA, which suspended operations a year ago. But disappointment over the suspension of the best women's soccer league in the world shouldn't detract from appreciation for what these women have done.

When they flew home, having won that inaugural World Cup in China 13 years ago, they were greeted at the airport by one writer. One. When they played China for the World Cup in '99, there were no empty seats in the Rose Bowl.

Beyond '99 there have been some disappointments. Where is the fan of soccer or of women's sports who doesn't wish the WUSA was still in operation? But the great and lasting achievement of the Women's National Team is showing millions of people who might not otherwise have known not only how precisely and brilliantly the game of soccer can be played, and how much joy can be brought to the field, and how much joy can be reflected.

The dedication of Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, and their veteran teammates — the example they have set - has insured that the U.S. National team will not lack for talented players when the founding class retires. But to say the women who taught a nation to cherish their effort and enjoy their game will be missed is an Olympic-sized understatement.

This program aired on August 6, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.

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