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December 20, 2011
Wambach named AP athlete of the year

Abby Wambach was the runaway winner of the Associated Press' women's athlete of the year.
Abby Wambach was the runaway winner of the Associated Press' women's athlete of the year.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Abby Wambach accomplished something on Tuesday that neither Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers or Landon Donovan had been able to do.

She became the first soccer player -- man or woman -- to be named athlete of the year by the Associated Press.

Wambach, who led the United States to a second-place finish at the Women's World Cup and who, along with her teamamtes helped popularize the women's game more due to their dramatic late-match heroics, was voted female athlete of the year.

The Rochester, N.Y. native received 65 of the 214 votes cast by the AP members. Goalkeeper Hope Solo, whose heroics were a vital part of the Americans' success in Germany last summer, finished second with 38 votes while University of Connecticut basketball standout Maya Moore was in third place with 35 votes.

The AP has handed out the award since 1931.

"We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do," Wambach told the AP. "Even the team that won the [Olympic] gold medal in 2008 wasn't able to inspire and get people excited about women's soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring."

The 31-year-old Wambach connected for four goals in the WWC, giving her a U.S.-record 13, one ore than National Soccer Hall of Famers Michelle Akers. She is third ion the all-time WWC scoring lists behind Marta (Brazil) and Birgit Prinz (Germany). She is also third on the all-time U.S. list with 125 goals behind Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).

Wambach scored a goal in the first round, quarterfinals, semifinal and the final against Japan.

"When she's on top of her game," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said, "she's one of the best in the world."

Wambach also was selected as Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation. The U.S.'s dramatic semifinal win over Brazil was named the top sports accomplishment of the year in a Marist poll. The WWC also ranked 10th in the voting for AP sports story of the year.

"I'm not a person who cares much about [individual] awards, but I really appreciate you guys recognizing this team," Wambach told the AP. "It helps keep this sport alive, and it's really important."

Wambach and her U.S. teammates will be back in action in exactly a month as the U.S. will try to qualify for its fifth consecutive Olympics at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.

The Americans will open Group B play against the Dominican Republic on the second match day of the competition, squaring off against the Caribbean nation on Friday, Jan. 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET. They will face Guatemala on Sunday, Jan. 22 (7:30 p.m. ET) and finish group play against Mexico on Tuesday, Jan. 24 (10:30 p.m. ET).

All the matches of the tournament will be played at the newly renovated BC Place. The group winners and runners-up will play in the semifinals on Friday, Jan. 27, with the winners of those games qualifying for the Olympics. The championship game will be played on Sunday, Jan. 29. All the group games and the semifinals will be played in doubleheader formats.

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