Megan Rapinoe exclusive: "No one should ever tell you what your limits are"

"I'm so proud of this team" USA's superstar striker tells that she was "grateful" to be able to play at an Olympics that was "hard on and off the field." Read the exclusive interview here. 

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

USA football star Megan Rapinoe spoke to right before she jumped on a charter flight back to the United States.

Rapinoe scored two goals in the bronze medal match to lift The Stars and Stripes on to an Olympic podium for the first time since London 2012.

"It was hard off the field and hard for us on the field, much harder than it had to be," Rapinoe tells, "but in the end, we figured it out and we're going home with a bronze medal, and I'm super proud of that.

"I'm so proud of this team."

"No one should ever tell you what your limits are and tell you what your dreams are." - Megan Rapinoe

'Pinoe' also spoke about the inspiration that women and girls can take away from Tokyo 2020, from football stars to a new generation of surfers and skater girls.

"I mean, I obviously love to see that. I just think no one should ever tell you what your limits are and tell you what your dreams are.

"And I think particularly for little girls, we get that a lot, be this or be that or don't be this or don't be that. So to see these little kids out there shredding... and you just see the joy on their face and they're living by their own rules.

"And I feel like this new generation is doing that. They're just living by their own rules... They're going to set the limits for themselves and they're they're setting them pretty high."

USWNT stunned by Sweden: "We were tight and a little bit nervous"

On the football field the USWNT didn't have it all their own way. As a pioneering nation of women's soccer there was a time when the U.S. just had to show up and go on a golden parade.

The USA won the Olympic gold medal at Atlanta '96, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and London 2012.

But the world has caught up, Sweden eliminated the U.S. at the Rio 2016 quarter-final stage where Germany won the gold medal, and Canada topped the podium for the first time here in Japan.

Tokyo 2020 was a rollercoaster ride for Rapinoe and the U.S.: Sweden stunned them once more, handing the 2019 World Cup winners and World No.1 a 3-0 loss in their Olympic opener.

They bounced back with a 6-1 win over New Zealand, then were held 0-0 by Australia, qualifying for the quarters in second place in Group G behind Sweden.

Rapinoe: "Like walking through mud"

Rapinoe said they couldn't find their joy or play with their usual freedom. So what was missing?

"I think for us, just playing free," she continues to

"It just felt like we were tight and like a little bit nervous, obviously we didn't have our groove. And so then things just feel like you're kind of walking through mud.

"It's not just the goals. It's not just the great moments. I mean, even just, you know, chatter on the field or picking each other up when you made a bad pass or whatever it is."

The U.S. played the Netherlands in the quarter-final - a repeat of the 2019 World Cup final - and it finished 2-2 after 120 minutes before Rapinoe and co. came out on top in the penalty shootout, winning 4-2.

But a penalty was their undoing against eventual gold-medallists Canada, the Canadians pulling off a classic smash-and-grab win in the semi-final, a 73-minute Jessie Fleming pen settling it.

"I just felt like we were a little... Yeah, just a little heavy and a little tight or something," says Rapinoe, "so... as you can imagine, there was a lot of talking going on between the semifinal loss and heading into this [Bronze medal] final."

Rapinoe scored a 'gol Olimpico' in the bronze medal match straight from a corner, her second at the Olympics after she became the first person to do it at London 2012.

Then her volley into the top corner was as perfect as a volley can be, a goal of the Olympics contender.

"But, you know, it's kind of just like, this is our last game, this is our last opportunity to play for a medal, which is amazing, and just to play for ourselves and let go of everything and want to put a good performance out on the last day. And we definitely did that."

USA "didn't forget" loss to Sweden "quick enough"

So what can the USWNT learn from Tokyo 2020?

"I think just having a short memory, obviously we started the tournament off very poorly, getting beat by Sweden. The way that we did was was difficult.

"And I think we we didn't forget that quick enough. You have to learn what you can and then just move on to the next game.

"It's kind of like, you know, individual tournaments in and of themselves. Just play the first one. Play the second one. And you could see we never really got into our groove... were just in our heads a little bit.

"So just have a short memory and also just to enjoy it. You know, this one was much more difficult to enjoy for a lot of reasons, Covid and all the things... so I think it maybe made it just a little bit more difficult to just be like, wow, I'm actually at the Olympics competing.

"This is like a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to win a medal. So I think I always try to keep that in mind, like I'm doing something that is so special for a job, like I call this a job and I get to play a sport for a living. So just to enjoy every single moment."

"We literally couldn't leave our hotel"

It's been a different Olympics for everyone, and pulling it off in the midst of a global pandemic has been a truly remarkable achievement.

Rapinoe spoke a little about dealing with the restrictions.

"I mean, I love soccer and give everything to it, but I love getting away from it as well, we literally couldn't leave our hotel or we couldn't go outside, couldn't go on walks.

"I couldn't go get coffee, couldn't see this beautiful city. We're in the top three or four cities in the entire world and it's all right there at your fingertips, but you can't do anything.

"So I think just the monotony of it was really difficult with no balance, you know, this group has been on the trip since June 26, we were in the States together, which is much more restricted.

"Normally, we would go to dinner and have a day off and go to coffee and walk around the park or something. Once the competition starts you're pretty locked down anyways, but you can only watch so many shows!

"Especially for an athlete you want to zone in, you want to focus so much, but you need to have that kind of turn off and have something else to do. So I think for me, that was that was the most difficult part."

"So grateful and thankful"

Rapinoe leaves Tokyo with her second Olympic medal, adding bronze to the gold she won at London 2012. She leaves positive, grateful and thankful after a hard but proud Olympic Games.

"I'm so proud of this team. It was so hard. I think every athlete, every person working here and just involved in the Olympics would say the same thing. It's been difficult.

"Of course, you know, we're trying to pull off a world event in the middle of a global pandemic. So things are going to have to be different.

"I'm just so proud of our team and so grateful and thankful that we even have this opportunity."