Jennie Finch

Jennie Finch, Lisa Fernandez weigh in on Mo’ne Davis

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Before Mo’ne Davis, the most famous female pitchers were Olympic champion softball players such as Jennie Finch and Lisa Fernandez.

Finch and Fernandez took notice of the 13-year-old star of the Little League World Series.

“She’s breaking down barriers,” Finch said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s so exciting to see her not only make it this far, but shine on this big stage. A lot of young girls I’m sure are looking up to her and watching her.”

There are parallels. Let’s start with women striking out men.

Finch is known by baseball fans for making Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols look foolish in the batter’s box. Finch’s 2011 book was titled “Throw Like A Girl.”

Fernandez said “throw like a girl” used to feel like a putdown, but that women have come such a long way — boosted by softball being part of the Olympics from 1996 through 2008 — that the phrase is now jocular.

“It doesn’t have any relevance anymore,” said Fernandez, the greatest pitcher in Olympic history who won three gold medals.

Fernandez pointed to added respect, evidenced with one of her Olympic teammates, Jessica Mendoza, now working as an analyst for ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”

Davis’ baseball days appear numbered. She has said she prefers basketball long-term.

“I’m a little bummed about that,” said Fernandez, an assistant softball coach at UCLA. She has seen women’s high school baseball players transition to softball and play collegiately.

Throwing motions in baseball and fast-pitch softball are completely different — and so are the objects they’re hurling, of course. The Taney Dragons ace could be a shortstop or third baseman in softball. Her overhand arm strength suits those positions.

“There’s nothing to say that she couldn’t [be a softball player],” Fernandez said. “There’s one thing they say you can’t teach, and that’s arm strength and velocity. That’s an impressive gift that she has.”

From CSN Philly: Mo’ne Davis and Taney ready for toughest foe yet

The sport of softball failed in a joint bid with baseball to get back into the Olympics last year, losing an International Olympic Committee vote to wrestling.

The Women’s Softball World Championship is taking place in the Netherlands right now (the U.S. is 5-0 with a 37-3 run differential and three mercy-rule wins).

Fernandez remembers the first U.S. Olympic softball team in 1996. A majority of that roster grew up playing baseball, she guessed, because softball wasn’t as widespread.

Whether it’s baseball, softball or basketball, Fernandez is excited about Davis’ exposure.

“It’s only going to help women’s athletics,” she said.

Mark McGwire remembers baseball’s Olympic boom in 1984

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics