The most iconic photo in women's soccer was almost never taken


Hours before the U.S. team won its first Women's World Cup match on Monday, occasional LA Observed contributor David Davis posted another of his richly detailed pieces on the backstory of an iconic Los Angeles sports moment. This was in 1999, seconds after Brandi Chastain had clinched the World Cup for the United States over China, on the pitch of the Rose Bowl. She had scored on a penalty kick, and in her exultation ripped off her jersey the way the men sometimes do. The goal was, Davis writes, "arguably the biggest moment in the history of American women’s sports." And Chastain felt like celebrating.

From Davis's story:

Images of Chastain’s bare midriff and black sports bra were featured on the covers of Time and Newsweek, as well as on countless newspapers. But the most indelible and reproduced picture is the full-frontal photo that appeared on the cover of the July 19, 1999, edition of Sports Illustrated, taken by staff photographer Robert Beck.

Last year, the cover was voted the magazine’s second most iconic cover in its 60-plus year history behind only the wordless “Miracle on Ice” cover from 1980….

And yet, interviews with Chastain, Beck, and former national team coach Tony DiCicco suggest that history—and documenting it—is neither so simple nor so linear. Chastain was a last-second choice to take the penalty kick, and at the moment he snapped the iconic photo, Beck had just snuck his way to a spot in which he wasn’t supposed to or prepared to be.

“It was probably something that never should’ve happened,” Beck said, “because I was in the wrong place at the right time.”

Chastain put it more cosmically: “It was fate that brought us together.”

Davis lets the backstory unfold, over there.

Among his previous pieces, Davis last year reexamined the 1965 incident in which Giants pitcher Juan Marichal clubbed Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a bat. He wrote in 2013 about the baseball that the Dodgers' Kirk Gibson hit for his big World Series home run (and oh so much more.) In 2012 he introduced us to Theo Ehret, the unsung giant of LA sports photography. And to the first woman to run a marathon in the U.S.

David Davis' books include "Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze." and he has a new book coming in October: "Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku."

Add Women's World Cup: Megan Rapinoe scored twice for the U.S. and Christen Press also scored in the 3-1 defeat of Australia. Alex Morgan did not start but she entered the match as a substitute in the 79th minute. The Americans play Sweden on Friday.

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