Tommy Lasorda

Baseball-softball’s chances of 2020, 2024 Olympic inclusion

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The International Olympic Committee will make the second of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose one of three sports — baseball/softball, squash and wrestling — for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics from 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern time. For more on what happens Sunday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at each sport’s pitch. Here is a rundown of baseball-softball:

Sport previews: Squash | Wrestling

Jessica Mendoza played softball during the 2012 Olympics.

Not with the U.S. national team. No, London marked the first Games since 1992 to not include softball. Rather, the 2004 and 2008 Olympian took to the diamond last summer with the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch league in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Akron, Ohio, and Kannapolis, N.C.

“All my Olympic teammates, we were all on the same field,” Mendoza, who gave birth to a baby boy, Caden, two weeks ago, said in a phone interview this week. “It was this weird feeling, being so far away from it.”

Mendoza said she spent days last summer watching the Olympics on TV. At night, she had league games to play. It brought to mind her Olympic experiences in Athens and Beijing.

“I felt, honestly, like crying,” she said. “We should be there. Instead of here in Florida, we should be there in London.”

Baseball and softball were cut from the Olympic program in an agonizing decision eight years ago. A total of 105 IOC members were eligible to vote “yay” or “nay” on all Olympic sports. A majority was needed to remain in the Games.

Baseball went down 54-50. Softball was 52-52. One member abstained from each vote. Had that member voted for softball, it would still be in the Olympics. Had anybody switched in favor of softball, it would still be in the Olympics.

Baseball and softball are now baseball-softball, one combined bid competing against squash and wrestling for one opening in the Olympic program for 2020 and 2024. Wrestling is considered the favorite. The Associated Press described baseball-softball’s chances as, “likely headed for another strikeout.”

“It’s so hard because a lot of the people voting are the same people who voted in 2005,” Mendoza said. “I’ve learned since then to understand the IOC a little bit more and learn that it’s very hard to figure out what they’re thinking.”

Tommy Lasorda doesn’t understand, either. Lasorda, 85, the retired Hall of Fame Dodgers manager, is probably the man most associated with U.S. Olympic baseball. He guided the 2000 Olympic club to gold, a group of minor leaguers who upset favored Cuba to cap an unlikely run. A “Miracle”-like documentary was in the works a few years ago.

“They made a big, big mistake,” voting baseball out, Lasorda said in a phone interview. “They’ve got sports that aren’t even sports in the Olympics.”

Together, baseball and softball are stronger than they were individually. They’re pushing for more compact Olympic tournaments, six days each, and at the same venue, saving money.

Baseball-softball’s chances will rise if Tokyo is elected as the 2020 host one day before the sport vote. Japan won the last Olympic softball tournament in 2008 and the first two World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009. It would be able to fill seats better than other candidates Istanbul or Madrid.

Issues that hurt each sport in the past remain. Softball is certainly more global than it was in its Olympic debut in 1996, but it’s still lacking support and popularity in Europe.

Baseball is beset by its doping problems and that the Olympics are not the ultimate goal for the sport. Major League Baseball players compete in the World Baseball Classic, but, so far, MLB has said it’s unwilling to stop its season to free players for the Olympics, like the NHL does.

“Those guys have contracts to worry about,” retired first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who hit a walk-off home run in the 2000 Olympic semifinals, said in a phone interview. “The timing’s never going to be right for them. This was a stepping stone for us (minor leaguers in 2000). Some of us, (the Olympics) was our big leagues.”

Olympic baseball proponents, such as Fidel Castro‘s son, argue that there’s plenty of time for negotiations with MLB on seeking a solution for the world’s best players to go to the Games.

American Don Porter is the president of the International Softball Federation and a co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation. He said he was packing to bring to Buenos Aires letters he’s received from girls who want to play Olympic softball.

“We’ve got a lot of young girls and boys out there who want to get their Olympic dreams back,” he told the AP.

City previews: Istanbul | Madrid | Tokyo

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Ryan Lochte, with new coach, races in first meet since Olympics

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Ryan Lochte is back in the competition pool.

The 12-time Olympic medalist, suspended from USA Swimming and international meets through June, won a 200-yard individual medley at the U.S. Masters nationals in Riverside, Calif., on Friday. He also finished second in a 100-yard breaststroke.

Full results are here.

“I’m a little overweight,” Lochte said, according to the Orange County Register. “I guess you could say six months of not taking care of my body and just living my life, not worrying about waking up and going to practice or anything like that. My main focus was to just relax, get away from the sport, and now that I’m getting back in I’m like, ‘Ooh, maybe I should have at least worked out a couple of times.'”

Lochte has moved to the Los Angeles area and is now coached by the University of Southern California’s Dave Salo until his fiancée’s baby is born (likely June). After that, they will re-evaluate his plan, Salo said.

Lochte was formerly coached by Gregg Troy from 2002-13 at the University of Florida, where he attended college and matured to become an Olympian in 2004. Lochte won 11 Olympic medals under Troy and became the world’s best swimmer going into the 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, Lochte moved from Gainesville to Charlotte and trained under David Marsh through the Rio Games. Lochte said last summer that he planned to move to California.

Lochte has also said he plans to try for a fifth Olympics in 2020, but his immediate future is about to get very busy — becoming a father, becoming a husband and the end of his ban.

He will swim two meets in August, the U.S. Open in East Meadow, N.Y., and an international meet in Rome, according to the Orange County Register.

“I’m behind, but you know,” Lochte said, according to the newspaper, adding he hasn’t been this happy since 2012. “I took time off. I needed it. My body and mind needed it to recover. It was just a dog fight for so many years I just got overwhelmed with the sport and lost the passion and the love for it. But now I have it. I have new passion, and I’m finding ways that swimming is fun again.”

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Jesse Owens’ Olympic gold medals up for auction

Jesse Owens
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Two of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Berlin Olympic gold medals will be auctioned in August, according to Heritage Auctions.

Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Games, triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany by taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Owens gifted one gold medal to entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, according to “Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson.”

That medal was auctioned for in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Owens used his three other Olympic golds as payment for a Pittsburgh hotel stay in the mid-1950s, according to “Intelligent Collector,” a magazine affiliated with Heritage Auctions, which is housing the August auction with Owens’ medals.

“Jesse didn’t have the financial means to pay for his stay at Mr. Harry Bailey’s hotel,” said Albert DeVito, son of a local handyman who ended up with the two gold medals being auctioned, according to the magazine. “So he gave his medals to Harry as his payment for expenses incurred.”

DeVito’s father was later gifted the three gold medals by the hotel owner Bailey for previously lending him money. DeVito’s father kept two and gave back to Bailey one gold medal whose whereabouts are unknown, according to the magazine.

DeVito thought to sell the remaining two gold medals after seeing the 2013 auction.

“It wasn’t until that first gold medal sold that we even thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. These things are worth something!'” DeVito said, according to the magazine.

It’s unknown which of the gold medals corresponds to which Olympic event, as they are not specified on the medals.

Before Owens’ death in 1980, the sprinter reportedly said he had lost the four gold medals. The German government replaced them, and they now rest at Ohio State, Owens’ alma mater.

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