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

Kitzbuehel hosts Hahnenkamm weekend; Mikaela Shiffrin speeds up; Alpine World Cup TV, live stream info

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The world’s most daring Alpine skiers descend the most famous annual race this weekend, while Mikaela Shiffrin tackles her own challenge, live on NBC Sports.

The men’s World Cup stops in Kitzbuehel, Austria, for the Hahnenkamm. The granddaddy is Saturday’s downhill, sandwiched between Friday’s super-G and Sunday’s slalom.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been among the celebrity attendees in the finish area. Lindsey Vonn will be on hand this weekend, inspecting the course.

The Streif downhill track is a two-minute, two-mile test of guts: a 3,000-foot drop at an average 65 miles per hour (and maxing out much faster than that). Crashes are commonplace. A helicopter is at the ready to airlift skiers to the nearest hospital.

“You go into the starting gate, and it’s intimidating,” said American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who makes his Kitzbuehel downhill debut on Saturday. “You don’t really know how it’s going to go. You think it’s just going to be kind of chaos.”

Cochran-Siegle, whose uncle Bob Cochran was the first American to earn a World Cup podium in the race in 1973, used two words to describe the Streif: fun … and fear.

The only American to win the Hahnenkamm downhill was Daron Rahlves in 2003. The last podium finisher was Bode Miller in 2014. The best U.S. finish the last four years was 10th.

Bryce Bennett took confidence from finishing seventh at a World Cup downhill in Wengen, Switzerland, last Saturday. That’s the best U.S. downhill finish this season outside of the home snow of Beaver Creek, Colo.

“Team morale is good, and it’s been great all season long,” said Steven Nyman, who was fifth in 2015. “We’re looking for those top-tier performances. Bryce’s seventh is a good step forward. We all know we can ski well, and it’s cool as a team we’re pushing toward the top, but we’re not there yet.”

Over in Bansko, Bulgaria, Shiffrin is expected to race downhills Friday and Saturday and a super-G on Sunday. They would mark the slalom ace’s first downhills outside of Lake Louise and Cortina d’Ampezzo, which she’s contested a combined 10 times.

Shiffrin made the podium of her last super-G in St. Moritz and her last downhill in Lake Louise, both in December. She’s coming off surprising results in slaloms and giant slaloms, not having won in her last five starts overall.

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup overall standings by a substantial 199 points with a tour-leading four outright victories this season.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Super-G NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s Downhill NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s Downhill NBCSN
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Women’s Super-G Olympic Channel | NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 1 NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s Slalom Run 2 NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s Super-G NBCSN
Monday 1 p.m.* Kitzbuehel Highlights NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast

Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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