By Michael Lewis
LONDON -- Striker Abby Wambach and her U.S. teammates can bury the memory of the 2011 Women's World Cup: no more thinking about how they allowed a world championship to slip away.
An Olympic gold medal can make your recollections go fuzzy about past disappointments.
"It makes everything sweeter," Wambach said. "I can rest assured that the rest of my life won't be spent in nightmare status. I'm not going to be upset for the rest of my life. We put so much of ourselves in this. We sacrificed our families and friends. This means everything to us. It seems surreal in the moment."
With Thursday's 2-1 victory over Japan at Wembley Stadium in the 2012 Olympic gold medal game, the United States has won six of the 11 major championships (Women's World Cup and Olympics) contested in women's soccer. Additionally, the Americans have finished runners-up twice and third three times.
The win over Japan was the team's fourth Olympic gold and third straight - and came against a side that outlasted it on penalty kicks a year earlier, after the Americans twice had the lead.
"Last summer when we lost in heart-breaking fashion on penalty kicks in the World Cup, your team can go one way or the other after something like that," Wambach said. "Our team chose the right path."
Swedish-born U.S. coach Pia Sundhage had difficulty expressing herself.
"Unbelievable," she said. "There are no words. I can't even try to do it in Swedish. This is just unbelievable. Winning a gold at Wembley is phenomenal."
While heroines in the Americans' six-victory run through the Olympics were plentiful: Abby Wambach with five goals in as many games; Alex Morgan scoring the winner in the final seconds of a 4-3 extra time semifinal win over Canada, two more emerged in the final.
U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd, who became the first soccer player -- man or woman -- to score the winning goal in consecutive finals, wasn't in Sundhage's plans to be a starter when the tournament began. She was on the bench before Shannon Boxx suffered a hamstring injury.
Lloyd replaced her, and scored twice in the final.
"When someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to prove them wrong," she said. "That's what a champion is all about and that's what I am - a champion. I fought harder, dug deeper and I wanted to make all those doubters out there wrong."
And then there was goalkeeper Hope Solo, who didn't have opportunity to distinguish herself in the first five games. But with the United States leading Japan 2-1 in the 83rd minute, her diving effort preserved the victory and the gold medal.
It came after captain and central defender Christie Rampone was dispossessed of the ball by Mana Iwabuchi. Iwahuchi raced in alone on Solo, who stretched to produce a two-handed save.
"I have to be patient as a goalkeeper and I have to let the game come to me," she said. "I haven't been tested too much in this tournament; there were some awkward goals against Canada in the semifinal. There was going to be one game in the tournament where I had to show up and play and I hadn't had it in five games straight. You can't win a major tournament without good goalkeeping."
Sundhage, a former Swedish international, has not said if she will remain with the United States after her contract ends in November. Swedish national coach Thomas Dennerby is stepping down after the Olympics, and a twitter campaign in Sweden has been afoot to entice her to return home.
After coaching the United States to second Olympic gold, Sundhage wasn't even thinking about the decision.
"I'll tell you this, to be coach of the women's national team in the States is the best job in the world," she said. "It is a dream.
"It's all about timing. I promised myself to enjoy the moment."