Golden Grosso: Texas' Julia Grosso discusses winning soccer gold at Tokyo Olympics
Texas soccer star Julia Grosso proudly owns a signed jersey of Christiano Ronaldo, her favorite player. The Canadian midfielder even understands Ronaldo's native language of Portugese despite not being able to speak it herself.
But after claiming an Olympic gold medal in soccer for Canada’s women’s national team with a dramatic game-winning penalty kick in Tokyo, maybe it's Ronaldo who'll soon need an autographed jersey from Grosso. After all, Ronaldo's only Olympic appearance ended in the group stage of the 2004 Games in Athens.
Grosso, who spoke to local media on Wednesday, said her plan on the penalty kick was to shoot to her left. That's her preferred way to take a penalty shot. Sweden's goal keeper, Hedvig Lindahl, guessed correctly, reaching Grosso's shot with her hand, but it deflected up and into the goal.
The gold medal match that had been tied 1-1 at the end of extra time suddenly was over. It took Grosso's brain a few seconds to process the achievement.
“I turned around and knew that was the final kick to win it, but it took me a few seconds to realize that we had just won gold. It was crazy,” Grosso said. “It was a sigh of relief because of all of the hard work we put in. Is this real life? It was the craziest moment ever.”
She was one of 25 current, former or future Longhorns who competed in the Tokyo Olympics. Five UT athletes won gold; besides Grosso, there was Ariel Atkins in women's basketball, Ryan Crouser in track and field (shot put), Kevin Durant in men's basketball and Chiaka Ogbogu in women's volleyball.
Three Longhorns won silver — Teahna Daniels in track and field (1,600-meter relay), Cat Osterman in softball and Erica Sullivan in swimming (1,500-meter freestyle) — and Stacey Ann Williams won bronze as part of Jamaica's 1,600 relay. Sullivan will begin at Texas this fall.
Grosso, who is preparing for her senior year at Texas, is no stranger to international competition. She debuted for the Canadian senior team back in 2017 in a match against the United States in what she previously considered her greatest personal athletic achievement before winning the gold medal.
She earned five caps at the Olympics for Canada, bringing her senior total to 29. She also was part of medal-winning national teams at the U-20, U-17 and U-15 levels, earning accolades everywhere she’s kicked a soccer ball.
Grosso's experience on big stages allowed her to remain calm despite the importance of the moment.
“Before the kick, I told myself there was no pressure and to just shoot it hard," she said. "I tried not to think that I was at an Olympic gold medal match, but that I was just at practice shooting the ball. If I had thought about (the moment), I would have been nervous.”
Grosso, 21, never played high school soccer. She came up through the soccer ranks with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite club before enrolling at Texas in 2018, earning co-Big 12 freshman of the year honors despite missing nearly 10 Longhorns matches that season due to international conflicts with the Canadian senior team.
She returned to UT as a sophomore in 2019 with eight goals and eight assists in 17 matches, all starts. Texas made the NCAA playoffs and Grosso was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and was on the third-team of the United States Soccer Coaches' All-American list. She had scored five goals and added four assists in 12 matches before the suspension of the 2020 season.
The 2021 season begins with an exhibition match against Abilene Christian on Friday. The regular season begins six days later on Aug. 19 with an away match at Central Florida. Grosso won’t feature in the first couple of weeks of the season. She was still in her hometown of Vancouver for Wednesday's Zoom with the media.
When she does return full time to the team, Grosso's profile on UT campus will be elevated. She was Texas soccer’s first Olympian and first Olympian to medal. Notoriety rarely comes for college players, male or female.
Grosso began to feel that admiration while still in Tokyo following her kick to help Canada win gold.
“It was pretty cool to be in the (Olympic) Village with the athletes after and they knew we had won," Grosso said. "They were all very supportive, even people from different countries and different sports. It really set in when I landed in Canada because there were people there waiting with cameras.”