Gina Mei
June 11, 2015 5:30 am

It was the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and Brandi Chastain had just converted the winning penalty kick for the United States against China. In a moment of unfettered excitement, Chastain tore off her jersey and fell to her knees with a roar — a sight absolutely glorious to behold. A stadium of 90,000 — including President Bill Clinton — witnessed the goal and its well-deserved celebration, along with an audience of 18 million watching from home. The U.S. hasn’t won a World Cup game since, and the moment remains one of the most exciting in modern day sports.

After her game-winning goal, Chastain was on the cover of multiple magazines and newspapers. But it was Sports Illustrated’s cover — a straight-on shot of Chastain, eyes closed and fists high — that has become synonymous with that moment of glory. The photo is so iconic, in fact, that it was even voted SI’s second most memorable cover of all time. And now, thanks to an incredible piece by David Davis for Deadspin, we have the story behind how it came to be.

As Davis explains, the photo was a very extreme case of chance. Chastain was a last-minute swap for the penalty kick, and Robert Beck, the photographer, wasn’t even supposed to be on the field (he had been assigned to photograph the stands). To cut a long story short, Beck and his photo assistant “‘weaseled’ their way through the media security checkpoints,” and found themselves directly behind the goal. A prime view is only as good as what you get to see, however — and Chastain more than delivered with her incredible goal.

To make it even more amazing, it was Chastain’s first time taking a penalty kick left-footed during a game — although she had done it many times in practice. Watching the footage (no pun intended), Chastain still gets nervous that it won’t go in. But it does — and part of the reason the resulting image has become so iconic is because it so perfectly captures every emotion Chastain was going through.

“What I explain to people is, imagine the moment you created as a kid in the playground many, many times — where you have the last shot and the clock is ticking down and the crowd goes wild,” Chastain told Deadspin. “Maybe in the playground you jump up in the air or pump your fists. But to do this in real life: the emotion and the energy and the electricity and the crowd — it was insanity because I wasn’t really in control. It was just a spontaneous expression to a wonderful moment, but a moment that was a lifetime in building.”

“That was a response that a top player would do after scoring an incredibly important goal,” her former coach, Tony DiCicco, continued. “Brandi celebrated a goal in a way she had seen countless men celebrate big goals. In that moment I don’t think she felt anything other than exhilaration and relief.”

The photograph was not without backlash, and some were critical that Chastain would show her excitement so unashamedly or that she would take her jersey off. As DiCicco points out, however, this is precisely how many male soccer players have celebrated similar goals during the game for years. Why should Chastain be held to different standards?

“I think, mostly, young girls demur when they do something great,” she told Deadspin. “They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or apologize for their greatness. I feel that picture represents somebody who was in love with what they were doing and joyful at the outcome. We must as women and girls celebrate the good things that we do because if we can’t feel good about the good things we do, nobody else can.”

You can (and should) read the rest of Davis’ piece right here.

(Images via, via.)

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