LONDON - If it's the Olympic Games, it must be Carli Lloyd.
On the biggest possible stage, in front of the biggest crowd ever to watch an Olympic women's soccer game, Lloyd scored both goals for the United States in a 2-1 victory over Japan for the gold medal.
Four years ago, in Beijing, Lloyd scored the winning goal in the Olympic final against Brazil. The opponents change, the continents shift, but Lloyd comes through when gold is on the line.
"This is huge," Lloyd said. "In a soccer player's career, you just don't know how many Olympic opportunities you're going to get. For me to have a second gold medal, it's a dream come true."
This one was hard-earned. A year ago, Lloyd missed a penalty kick in the World Cup final against this same Japanese team. Japan won the Cup, leaving Team USA with a grudge to nurse for 13 long months.
But there was more to it than that. Women's soccer may pack a legendary venue for the Olympic final, but the top women's professional league in the United States is out of business. Without a pro team to play for, the members of the U.S. national team were scattered around the country, staying in shape on their own.
Lloyd works out at Universal Soccer Academy in Lumberton. She plays against men. She runs. She works on technique.
"I do all kinds of things to stay in shape," Lloyd said.
When the team regrouped to prepare for London, coach Pia Sundhage had an unpleasant surprise for Lloyd. The heroine of Beijing was going to be a backup.
"My role had been starting for a really long time," Lloyd said. "Up until we were ready to leave, maybe three games before, I was coming off the bench. I wasn't happy about that. I didn't pout. I didn't get upset. I just worked extra hard, and I wanted to prove that I'm a special player."
She won back her customary spot in the middle of the field, but the sting stayed with her as the team won all over Britain - from Glasgow to New Castle to Manchester and finally to Wembley Stadium.
"I'm all about proving people wrong," Lloyd said. "If someone tells me I can't do something, or someone has lost a little bit of faith in me, I'm going to dig deeper and prove to them that I'm a valuable member of the team. And that's what I did. I think I was the most consistent player all tournament."
In the game that mattered most, with the most pressure and the most witnesses, Lloyd was the best player. With a nod to goalkeeper Hope Solo, who valiantly protected the lead, it was Lloyd who provided that lead.
The Americans desperately wanted this after the World Cup loss. That was no fluke. Japan is an excellent team with a fluid, controlled style.
"We knew we weren't going home without another gold medal," Lloyd said. "We had pressure, but I think Japan had more pressure. They were coming off a World Cup win."
Just eight minutes into the game, Alex Morgan drove toward the goal from the left side. The Japanese defense sealed her off along the end line, so she lofted the ball across the goalmouth. Abby Wambach seemed poised to kick it in. She didn't get a chance.
"I saw it coming," Lloyd said. "I sprinted past Abby and just made sure it went in. It was a great feeling."
Lloyd looked like a sprinter leaning in at the finish line, the ball bouncing off her lowered head and splashing the back of the net.
Japan cranked up the intensity, spraying shots at Solo but not beating her. The 1-0 score held up until halftime.
In the second half, Lloyd gave her team a little room to breathe. All that running, all those hours of ball-control exercises, paid off. She took off through the middle of the field, getting to the 18-yard line and looking to pass. The Japanese defenders seemed to anticipate that and shaded toward Morgan.
"I found an open shot, and I took it," Lloyd said.
It was a beauty, bending in flight and ticking in just inside the left goalpost. Lloyd's teammates mobbed her so fiercely, she could feel her back bending the wrong way.
Lloyd almost had a third goal, another rocket from the middle that went over the crossbar by scant inches.
Japan scored, finally, making that second goal all the more important. The U.S. team basically held on, wishing the clock would tick faster, until the referee finally blew the whistle.
"I was nervous," Lloyd said. "But Hope Solo will save the day. She's the best ever."
In goal, perhaps Solo is. But Lloyd made a strong case for being included whenever the conversation turns to the best players ever. She personally delivered the gold-medal goals in two consecutive Olympics.
"Great players come up big in big situations," Wambach said.
Lloyd turned 30 this summer. There is still no professional league to return to, although she said there is talk of another attempt. She isn't finished, though. Not yet.
"I definitely want a World Cup win," she said, "and maybe another [Olympic] gold medal. There's more in me. I feel like I'm in my prime. I feel like we're writing history."
They wrote some here Thursday night - and Carli Lloyd added the exclamation marks.
Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan