If they were handing out a gold medal for the biggest dummy spit in Rio, USA women’s football star Hope Solo would be standing at the top of the podium.
The veteran goalkeeper fired a withering verbal assault on the Swedish team, who dumped the three-time defending Olympic champions out of the quarter-finals on penalties on Saturday morning (AEST).
Sweden prevailed 4-3 in the shootout after the scores were locked 1-1 at the end of extra time, and Solo didn’t hold back in her post-match interview.
“I thought we played a courageous game,” Solo began.
“I also think we played a bunch of cowards.
“The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had today.”
What triggered Solo’s spray, you ask? A nasty piece of Swedish foul play, perhaps, or diving to get penalties?
Sweden’s conservative style of play – ostensibly playing out the draw – was behind the Seattle Reign stalwart’s sour grapes.
“Sweden dropped off,” Solo said when asked why she called them “cowards”.
“They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer.
“It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was.
“They didn’t try and press. They didn’t want to open the game. And they tried to counter with long balls.”
Solo went on to say she didn’t think “[Sweden is] going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly, but they won. They’re moving on and we’re going home.”
This wasn’t some young hothead sounding off – Solo is 35 years old and has played over 200 internationals for USA.
US Soccer declined to comment on the incident, but commendably US Chef de Mission Alan Ashley said he saw, “two courageous teams on the field, both fighting hard to represent their country and advance in the tournament.”
Fairly or not, few would be surprised that the worst act of sportsmanship at the Rio Games was perpetrated by an American athlete.
Solo’s extraordinary attack adds another chapter to the colourful narrative of USA competitors throwing their toys out of the pram after Olympic defeat.
At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, all-American golden girl and 3000m favourite Mary Decker tripped on the leg of her arch-rival, Britain’s Zola Budd, during the final and was forced out of the race.
Initially disqualified, Budd was cleared of any wrongdoing – but a furious Decker wanted no part of Budd’s olive branch.
“Don’t bother, I don’t want to talk to you,” Decker said to Budd as she tried to apologise.
When Swiss runner Cornelia Burki told her it wasn’t Budd’s fault, Decker retorted, “Yes, it was. I know it was. It was!”
Decker publicly maintained her stance in the aftermath, though she reconciled with Budd a year later and eventually accepted her share of the blame for the incident.
Perhaps the greatest example of not being able to accept defeat came from the US men’s basketball team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Beaten by bitter rivals Russia in the dying seconds of the final after a highly controversial call went against them, irate American officials launched an appeal – which the Jury of Appeal rejected – and the players refused to accept their silver medals.
It was USA’s first-ever loss in Olympic basketball competition.
Given her track record, consequences would have been the furthest thing from Solo’s mind when she unleashed her shocking outburst.
But the firebrand has nevertheless disgraced her team, spat in the face of the Olympic spirit, and solidified a reputation Team USA has tried so long to shake.