Just because Kelley O’Hara already has an Olympic gold medal doesn’t mean she’s resting easy. The 26-year old defender for the U.S. Women’s National Team is hungry for a win at this year’s Women’s World Cup, which kicked off on Saturday, June 6. The U.S. brings a stacked team to the tournament this year, and O’Hara, who competed in the 2011 World Cup, is one of many hyper talented (and decorated) veterans who still play like they’ve got something to prove.
Case in point: The team’s first match against Australia on Monday night. Despite a shaky start with a rash of incomplete passes, the Americans’ sheer athleticism, incredible shots and superb goaltending from Hope Solo propelled them to a 3-1 win.
“The only thing on my mind is winning”
But will they be able to end their World Cup drought? In 2011, the U.S. women fell short in the finals against Japan. In fact, they haven’t won the tourney since 1999, when an all-star team including Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry and Brandi Chastain defeated China during shootout play. We caught up with O’Hara last week to talk about this year’s squad, what tunes get her in the zone, and how she plans to protect the net at all costs.
How Kelley O’Hara Fuels and Trains for the Women’s World Cup
What’s on your mind going into this year’s tournament?
The only thing on my mind is winning. But that means focusing on each game as it comes and not getting caught thinking about what might come next. It’s all about being in the moment.
What are some of the strengths that this year’s team brings to the pitch?
We are probably the deepest team the U.S. has ever brought to the World Cup. We have players that have been to the World Cup one, two, three, four, even five times and that means a wealth of experience. We also have a couple of players [for whom this] will be their first major tournament. I think the rookies bring a lot of talent and energy to the group.
This is the first year the tournament is going to be played on artificial turf. Has that changed the way you’re training?
“You have to push yourself beyond what your mind is telling you”
Absolutely. As a team we have tried to play on turf as much as possible leading up to the tournament…It also takes a bigger toll on your body than grass, so that is taken into consideration when we are training.
You were one of only three U.S. women to play every minute of the 2012 Olympics. How do you build endurance so you can push past fatigue?
It’s a number of things that allow us to be fit for 90-plus minutes [of a game]. Our strength and conditioning coach does a good job of putting us through not only pure endurance fitness, but also sprint endurance. It is also very mental in that you have to push yourself beyond what your mind is telling you that you can do because your body will keep going.
How do you build the explosive speed it takes to chase down opponents and protect the net at all costs?
There is a lot of speed training involved. We do that at least three times a week. The sprint endurance fitness runs also contribute to it.
Can you tell us about how you fuel before and after a workout?
Before a workout I try to keep it pretty simple – coffee and a bar. After workouts I drink chocolate milk to recover. I first started drinking chocolate milk to refuel in college when one of my assistant coaches said there were studies that proved that low-fat chocolate milk was great for recovery. So after practice, we would get out two big gallons and drink it together as a team.
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What do you feel is the biggest misconception about recovery among athletes?
I don’t know if this is a misconception with athletes or the general public, but probably that it doesn’t matter when or what you eat after a workout. It is crucial to get in the right mix of protein and carbs after a workout so that your body rebuilds and rebounds faster. Chocolate milk does that for me.
Do you have a favorite “cheat meal,” or post-game treat?
No cheat meals, but I do love donuts. And my mom’s homemade cookies. And Chick-fil-A.
Do you have any pre-game rituals? What gets you fired up and in the zone?
Music is what gets me in the zone. It gets me hyped up but also zen at the same time. I like anything Robyn, rap and hip-hop.
Who (or what) is your greatest inspiration?
I am inspired every day by my teammates. They are the most passionate, hardworking people I know when it comes to soccer.
To watch the U.S. Women’s National Team continue their World Cup journey, tune in to see them play Sweden on Friday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports.