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

New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

PREVIEWS: MenWomen | Dance | Pairs | Nathan ChenMirai Nagasu | TV Schedule

Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

PREVIEWS: MenWomen | Dance | Pairs | Nathan ChenMirai Nagasu | TV Schedule

When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang