When athletes from around the world march into the Olympic opening ceremony next month in Rio de Janeiro, softball players will be notably absent. The Rio Games are the second since the sport was taken off the Olympic program. But with the 2020 Games coming up next in Tokyo, the sport’s absence might be ending.
The International Olympic Committee executive board last month announced support for adding baseball and softball, among other sports, back to the Olympic program in 2020, and the IOC will make its final decision in August.
Even though it’s not set in stone, the coaches and players within the USA Softball national program are feeling confident and have already started looking toward 2020 in Tokyo.
“We are only four years out,” Team USA coach Ken Eriksen said at the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City. “We are hoping that things are going to go in the right direction. The sand clock is going to go a lot faster than it has in the last eight years. Before you know it, you’re going to be at the Olympics.
“Trust me, every single day now means more than ever before.”
The last Olympics to include softball was 2008 in Beijing, when Japan took home the gold by beating the United States in the final. The loss ended a 22-game U.S. win streak at the Games that began in 2000.
Most of the current members of the U.S. national team weren’t even in high school when Team USA played that final Olympic game. But that hasn’t stopped them from looking forward to rejoining the action.
“It’s huge. I remember going when the USA team was on tour when it was in the Olympics,” outfielder Janie Takeda said. “Sold-out crowds, stuff like that. But I was pretty young. I hear stories about what it’s going to be like when we get back in, because the coaches are really confident. So I think it will be crazy and it would be huge and hopefully it will grow the sport to a point to where we can play it as our only career.
“So it would be amazing and an honor to be on that team.”
If the IOC does vote to include softball in the 2020 Games, Eriksen knows his toughest challenge could just be filling out his roster. Not only does he have the current national team players, who finished second at the World Cup to Japan, but four years worth of college players will become available, too.
“They have no idea what to expect. Thank goodness I’ve been through it before so we can kind of guide them through that situation,” Eriksen said. “At this time, when you take a look at the roster, it’s a constant evaluation. Is this going to be the team that goes to the Olympics? I don’t know. How many players off the Elite (developmental) team will be on the national team that goes to the Olympics? I don’t know.
“That process is going to work itself out over the next two, three, four years. The next couple of years are going to be pretty interesting to see who grabs those spots on the team.”
If softball had been part of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Florida alum Michelle Moultrie would have likely made both teams. Now 26 years old, there is no guarantee she will be part of the national team in 2020, but she would still be glad to see the Olympics bring softball back.
“That will just be so exciting,” Moultrie said. “If we get back in 2020, I think it will just inspire young girls. I hope we start to get a little bit more coverage and stuff. Not for us, but to inspire the young girls to get out there and keep playing. They have opportunities after college. Especially with (Team USA) and the pro league (National Pro Fastpitch).
“It’s starting to get a little bit bigger for people to continue to play as long as they can.”
From GameChanger and Michael Kinney.