U.S. women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo
08/22/2008 at 08:40 AM EDT
Thursday's gold victory for the seemingly underdog U.S. women's soccer team was particularly sweet for goalkeeper Hope Solo – who last year had been benched during the World Cup semifinals against Brazil in favor of the veteran Brianna Scurry.
Coupled with the passing of Solo’s beloved dad, Jeffrey, just eight days before that crucial semifinal, Solo, 27, said to ESPN last year, "I'm no longer playing for myself or my teammates – I'm playing for my father."
In Beijing, she had that chance. During overtime after a nil-nil regulation, American striker Carli Lloyd took a pass from Amy Rodriguez and in the 96th minute locked up the win against Brazil, 1-0.
After the match, Solo said, "Tonight from the forwards to the defense and me, we were a team. I can’t remember many of the saves from tonight. We were just playing on excitement and I think we kept improving every game, all the time."
Twenty-four hours later, the Washington state native still feels that spirit of unity.
"I had no doubts we were going to find a way to win," Solo tells PEOPLE. "I have never seen so many heroes get together for a common goal. We have gone through a lot of soul-searching, and we have shown a lot of character. We put on a great show for America."
About her father, Solo says, "I always believe he is with me." And as to what part of her name she thinks reflects her most, Solo answers with a laugh, "I think the Hope part! Definitely."