Soccer Star With Soap Opera Roots Aims At Olympics

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Straight From Bogota: Orianica Velasquez is a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington. i i

Straight From Bogota: Orianica Velasquez is a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington. Jessica Naudziunas for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Naudziunas for NPR
Straight From Bogota: Orianica Velasquez is a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Straight From Bogota: Orianica Velasquez is a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Jessica Naudziunas for NPR

Indiana University soccer star Orianica Velasquez is on a mission — to get to the London Olympics with Colombia's women's soccer team. And she wants to send a message about the country where she was born.

"My dream is to get a medal for Colombia," she says, adding that she wants to show the world "it's just not violence, it's just not drugs — we can play soccer and we can do great things because we have great people there."

The coach of the Colombian women's team, Ricardo Rozo, says he didn't discover Velasquez's raw athletic talent on the field — he discovered it on TV. She was playing a teen in a soap opera about soccer. The program, Juego Limpio, or Fair Play, embodies the spirit of soccer for many Colombian fans.

Orianica Velasquez leads Indiana against Michigan State on Oct. 16, 2011. This summer, she hopes to lead Colombia's national team to an Olympic medal. i i

Orianica Velasquez leads Indiana against Michigan State on Oct. 16, 2011. This summer, she hopes to lead Colombia's national team to an Olympic medal. Mike Dickbernd/Indiana University Athletics hide caption

itoggle caption Mike Dickbernd/Indiana University Athletics
Orianica Velasquez leads Indiana against Michigan State on Oct. 16, 2011. This summer, she hopes to lead Colombia's national team to an Olympic medal.

Orianica Velasquez leads Indiana against Michigan State on Oct. 16, 2011. This summer, she hopes to lead Colombia's national team to an Olympic medal.

Mike Dickbernd/Indiana University Athletics

Rozo recruited Velasquez away from the show to play for the Colombian women's team, and then Indiana coach Mick Lyon brought her to the U.S.

"She's a good forward because she's greedy," Lyon says. "And that's what you ask for your forwards to be — go to goal with the belief that you are going to score or create a chance."

Lyon helped Velasquez learn English and fight off homesickness for a family and culture 2,000 miles away.

Velasquez represented Colombia at the Women's World Cup in 2011. A couple of weeks ago, she played one of the last matches of her junior year at Indiana.

Players slid across the muddy, rain-soaked U-School Field. It wasn't an easy day to play soccer, but that didn't keep Velasquez from hunting down the ball. She scored one goal, then another. Ultimately, IU didn't win, but Velasquez moved with intuition and power.

Today, she lives in a quiet, sparsely decorated apartment. Christmas decorations still hang in the living room. In the bedroom, she has keepsakes, like the purple soccer cleats she used in the World Cup and her retired jerseys.

Holding her Colombian national jersey, Velasquez says she associates the yellow and blue with home and family. Her parents have never watched her play for her college team, and they won't be there in London either — it's more than they can afford. Velasquez is asking them to record messages that she'll listen to on her iPod before matches. She's also recorded her own words of encouragement.

"You just need to enjoy [it] and play hard," she tells herself. "This is for your family; this is for yourself. You better win. You better win, that's all I can say. And score, please, score."

This is the first time Colombia's women's team has made it to the Olympics. The men's team didn't make the cut this year, and that's a big deal for a country as soccer-obsessed as Colombia. It means that, at this summer's games, it'll be up to the women to salvage Colombia's national pride. And Orianica Velasquez will be on the front lines.

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