BEIJING - There she went, that renegade Hope Solo, ignoring her teammates even during their gold medal celebration Thursday night, grabbing a couple of oversized, fake medals and sticking a cell phone in her ear while everyone else was carrying American flags.

Ten months earlier, then-U.S. soccer coach Greg Ryan had abruptly benched her for a World Cup semifinal against Brazil in favor of veteran goalie Briana Scurry, even though Solo was undefeated in the tournament. The United States lost 4-0 and Solo blasted the decision, a moment of angst that got her banished from the team.

Now here she was, in the wake of Team USA's 1-0 overtime victory over the playmaking Brazilians at Worker's Stadium, going off on her own again.

"The first person I called was my brother," she said. "He was back home in Washington. He was there for the World Cup last year.

"It was a special moment. He and I have this bond with my dad ... "

It was 10 months ago in China when Solo, spreading her father's ashes in the goalmouth before every game, got robbed of a chance to honor him. Thursday, she pitched a shutout instead of a fit, and while she later hugged and mugged with her teammates, her first thoughts were of her strange and close family.

"I couldn't believe it," she said of the realization she had just won a gold medal. "Honestly, it was unreal to me. You hear the words all the time, but I really couldn't fathom it. It's like a storybook ending. It's something you see in Hollywood, a fairy tale, and yet it was playing out.

"And my life doesn't play out that way all the time, you know? There's been a lot of hardships. I was just hoping this one time it would really come through.

"Honestly, that was wishful thinking. I knew it was a long road, a long journey, and I knew it was too perfect of an ending to actually happen. Nothing ever goes right with my family and my life, so this was too perfect, and I can't really swallow it right now."

Solo was never sure of her father's real name, although she usually called him Jeffrey. He had changed his last name, and she suspected he had been in the witness protection program.

She was pretty sure he was a Vietnam veteran, and when she connected with him while playing for the University of Washington, he was homeless. He'd show up at her games smelling as if he hadn't washed in weeks, sometimes carrying food in his jacket, but Solo found him wise and kind.

And loyal. Solo learned to value loyalty when, after a few harsh sentences, her team ostracized her last year.

New coach Pia Sundhage didn't try to mend feelings. She just asked two simple questions of her players: Do you want to win? And do you need a good goalie to win?

The answers led to the reinstatement of Solo as the starter, a decision that led to Solo diving all over the goalmouth Thursday, punching out crossing passes and smothering point-blank shots.

In the 79th minute, Brazilian star Marta smashed a hard shot from the left of the goal. Solo began diving left, anticipating a shot toward the open area of the net, but stuck out her right forearm and saved the game. "I was leaning left," she said. "But I had enough balance that I could cover my right. It's all about balance."

Brazil dominated play, creating many more scoring chances for the first three-fourths of the game, but Solo and the U.S. defense held fast until Carli Lloyd, one of Solo's best friends on the team, slammed a left-footer diagonally into the right side of the net in overtime.

Minutes later, someone was asking Solo if the gold medal erased a year of regret.

"If I say that one gold medal takes away all the pain in the world ... that's fake," she said. "I went through 10 months, and I got rid of that pain on my own, with my close friends and family. That's what did it, not the gold medal.

"But this does complete it."

So when she won that gold, she postponed her celebration with her teammates, and called her brother, yelling, "We just won the damn gold medal!"

Maybe "we" referred to her teammates. And maybe not.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •