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US women's football goalkeeper Hope Solo graces one of the four covers for last year's ESPN Body Issue.

Recognition, and sometimes controversy, seem to follow Hope Solo like her shadow.

The goalkeeper for the U.S. women's soccer team has posed nude in ESPN the Magazine's The Body Issue, appeared on television's Dancing with the Stars, and stirred controversy with her blunt criticism of a coach's decision to not play her in the semi-final of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Solo was mentioned in news reports after a man was shot and killed Tuesday night in the upscale Vancouver hotel where the U.S. team is staying while competing at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.

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"Saved by our instant yoga session," Solo tweeted. "Was about to walk to Starbucks when all hell broke loose in the lobby of our hotel. Life is precious …" Solo said the shooting left the team "a bit scared," but added that it wouldn't affect their quest to qualify for this summer's Olympic Games in London.

"We were aware of the situation," the 30-year-old Seattle resident said Wednesday between sips of coffee. "I think it was handled incredibly well by the hotel and the police officers."

With her fresh good looks and outspoken personality, Solo has made the transition from sports star to celebrity. Critics may argue she is feeding her own ego, but Solo believes the publicity raises the profile of women's soccer.

"It helps grow the game," she said. "For the game to grow, it needs to get more mainstream media. I know Dancing with the Stars did just that."

What sometimes is forgotten in the glare of the bright lights is that Solo is an elite goalie who must play an important role if the Americans hope to repeat as Olympic gold medalists.

"Everything she has got success wise she deserves," teammate Becky Sauerbrunn said. "I think she is the best [goalkeeper]in the world. As a teammate, she gets the best out of you and she does it in her own way."

Forward Abby Wambach said Solo has helped raise the soccer team's status in American pop culture. But that doesn't mean Solo will receive any special treatment when it comes to trying to win games.

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"We treat her like she is our teammate," Wambach said. "She's a superstar in our eyes only because she is our goaltender. Whatever people choose to do outside the lines of this game we are going to support, especially if it brings as much attention as she did to this game."

Solo said her activities outside soccer won't interfere with her play on the field.

"I don't think anybody has ever questioned my focus because I am such a balls-to-the-wall kind of athlete, a very in-your-face athlete," she said. "I'm very competitive, very driven.

"The great thing is I'm an athlete first and always have been. I get the attention because I am good at what I do. That is always going to be the focus. I have no problem with that."

Solo said she's never been so nervous as when she performed on Dancing with the Stars. Getting naked for ESPN didn't cause the same stress.

"It was honestly nothing," she said. "They make you feel comfortable. I am proud of the woman athlete's figure. It takes work to get that."

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Solo is still bothered by her surgically reconstructed right shoulder, something she is learning to deal with.

"My shoulder will always be an issue," she said. "I'm getting through it."

The U.S. women play their first game of the eight-team tournament Friday against the Dominican Republic. Canada plays its first game against Haiti Thursday night. The top two teams advance to the London Games.

Solo knows her high profile will result in closer scrutiny of her performance.

"You either strive under pressure or you sink," she said, shrugging. "Fortunately for me, all my life I have strived under pressure. The more pressure on me, I usually rise to the occasion."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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