Preliminary Round (Pool Play)
U.S. 3, Denmark 0
U.S. 2, Sweden 1
U.S. 0, China 0
U.S. 2, Norway 1 (after extra time)
U.S. 2, China 1
Having held on to beat China 2-1 in the gold medal game of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, the members of the U.S. women’s soccer team were unsure what to do as the public address announcer proceeded during the medal ceremony.
“We’d never been part of one of those,” said forward Shannon MacMillan, who led the team in scoring during the Olympics, with three goals. “They announced the gold medalists Team USA and we were all just looking at each other, holding hands, saying, ‘What do we do? Do we step up?’ A few people stepped up then stepped down and finally we all stepped on the podium.”
It was a watershed moment in athletics. Women’s soccer was added to the Olympic Games for the first time ever and while it was only an eight-team competition, it was a rousing success. The championship match drew a crowd of 76,489 to the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium, normally home to the school’s football team. It was the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s sporting event.
The United States fielded a star-studded roster that year, including Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly. The team beat Denmark and Sweden and tied China in the preliminary round to advance to the knockout stage and the semifinals.
Playing Norway in the semifinals – a rematch of the 1995 Women’s World Cup semifinals won by Norway – the Americans rallied in the latter stages. Akers scored on a penalty kick in the 76th minute and then McMillan scored a golden goal in the 100th minute for a 2-1 victory.
That set up a rematch against China four days later. McMillan scored in the 19th minute to give the United States a 1-0 lead. After the Chinese tied it, Joy Fawcett sprinted onto a pass and made a terrific pass that Tiffeny Milbrett buried for the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory.
“It was an amazing moment to even be there and be a part of it,” MacMillan said years later.