Women’s baseball, men’s softball players will never get closer to the Olympics than at Pan American Games

Tamara Holmes
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In August 2016, the International Olympic Committee is expected to decide if baseball and softball will be re-added for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

To be more precise, the IOC will be looking at men’s baseball and women’s softball.

At the ongoing Pan American Games, the U.S. baseball and softball teams are vying for medals against other North and South American nations.

To be more precise, the U.S. men’s and women’s baseball teams and men’s and women’s softball teams are competing at the Pan Am Games.

It’s the first time both genders are playing baseball and softball at the Pan Am Games, with women’s baseball making its Pan Am Games debut and men’s softball returning to the program of the quadrennial multisport event for the first time since 2003.

Women’s baseball and men’s softball have never been part of the Olympics. Every Olympic proposal for baseball or softball has been exclusively for men’s baseball or women’s softball, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation.

“The long-term plan and strategy would be to position men’s softball and women’s baseball for potential Olympic consideration, given the opportunity,” a World Baseball Softball Confederation official said in an email.

But it wouldn’t happen soon, which makes this month’s Pan American Games the closest thing to the Olympics that these women’s baseball and men’s softball players can experience.

“It’s clearly the biggest event that women’s baseball has ever had,” said U.S. outfielder Tamara Holmes, a 41-year-old who in the 1990s played for the Colorado Silver Bullets, a barnstorming women’s team that once engaged in a benches-clearing brawl with an 18-and-under boys team and, later, became who was believed to be the first female position player on a men’s professional baseball team, the independent league Massachusetts Mad Dogs.

The U.S. women are certainly medal contenders at the Pan Am Games, if not gold-medal favorites. In the Women’s Baseball World Cup, they have finished no worse than third in all six editions of the even-numbered-year tournament that debuted in 2004. Only Japan has a better record.

The accolades — and the sport itself — are lost on the general public.

Another U.S. player, Malaika Underwood, said people will often ask what sport she plays. She will answer, “baseball player,” and will usually be corrected. “Oh, you play softball.”

Men’s softball players can relate.

source:
Chris Miljavac and Matt Palazzo. (USA Softball)

“I hear it all the time, you’re playing a girls sport,” said Chris Miljavac, a U.S. infielder and project manager/estimator at Miljavac Electric in St. Joseph, Mo., who like many men picked up slow-pitch softball once his competitive baseball days were over. “We ride the coattails of the women’s team.”

Miljavac didn’t find slow-pitch demanding enough. So he tried fast-pitch, where pitch speeds can reach mid-80 miles per hour from a mound 46 feet away, he said.

“The reaction time to hit fast-pitch is less than the reaction time for Major League Baseball players to hit a 100-mph fastball from 60 feet away,” Miljavac said. “Softball players kind of pride ourselves in that.”

The U.S. men’s softball team’s sights are set on Pan Am Games host Canada, the defending Pan Am champion and the reigning World champion.

“It’s as close as we’re going to get to the Olympics,” said captain Matt Palazzo, the son of a fast-pitch player who turned to softball after playing college baseball.

The U.S., which took silver to Canada at the 2003 Pan Am Games, hasn’t won a World title since 1988.

“You really get treated well at the Pan American Games,” said U.S. manager Denny Bruckert, 70, who was an assistant coach at the 1999 Pan Am Games. “I can remember all the gear that we got.”

The Pan Am Games experience is hard to explain, Miljavac said. Many of the athletes with whom the women’s baseball and men’s softball players share village and dining hall space use the event as training for the Olympics.

“But you share common goals,” said Miljavac, who remembered meeting Olympic champion softball pitchers Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman at the 2003 Pan Am Games, “to be the best in your sport and, obviously, you’re fighting for one common goal, to win the gold and represent USA as proudly as you can.”

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Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise

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Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek gets 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova, who upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian this tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s defining race; Paris Diamond League TV, live stream info

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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For Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, what happens in her first outdoor race of 2023 on Friday could dictate the rest of her season. It may impact her 2024 Olympic plans, too.

McLaughlin-Levrone strays from the 400m hurdles — where she is the reigning Olympic and world champion and four times broke the world record — to race her first flat 400m in two years at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Peacock streams it live from 3-5 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

What we know is this: On Friday, McLaughlin-Levrone will race against the Olympic and world silver medalist in the 400m (Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic) and the 2019 World champion (Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain).

Next month, McLaughlin-Levrone will race the flat 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the qualifying meet for August’s world championships. She is racing that flat 400m at USATF Outdoors at least in part because she already has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion.

What we don’t know: which race McLaughlin-Levrone will enter at worlds. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said last month that she will choose between the 400m and 400m hurdles for worlds, should she finish top three in the 400m at USATF Outdoors to qualify in that second event. She will not try a 400m-400m hurdles double at worlds.

McLaughlin-Levrone was asked Thursday which event she would pick if given the choice.

“Is it bad to say I don’t know?” she said in a press conference. “Honestly, ask me after tomorrow. I don’t know. I’ve got to run this one first and see how it feels.”

McLaughlin-Levrone also doesn’t know what she will try to race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year, the 400m-400m hurdles double is more feasible given one could do both events without ever racing more than once per day.

“We’re still focused on 2023,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “One step at a time, literally. Obviously that’s something as the season comes to an end we’ll kind of start to look and figure out what our plan is for next year.”

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:57 p.m. ET — Women’s Shot Put
1:35 — Women’s High Jump
2:15 — Women’s Discus
2:20 — Women’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:19 — Men’s Long Jump
3:24 — Women’s 5000m
3:42 — Women’s Javelin
3:52 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
4:02 — Women’s 400m
4:12 — Men’s 100m
4:22 — Women’s 200m
4:32 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:51 — Men’s 800m

Here are six events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 2:20 p.m. ET
Olympic and world champion Katie Moon won the first two Diamond League meets and again faces some of her biggest domestic and international challengers in Paris. That includes fellow American Sandi Morris, who won the first three Diamond League meets last year, then took silver behind Moon at worlds on count back. Plus 34-year-old Slovenian Tina Sutej, who ranks second in the world this season.

Women’s 5000m — 3:24 p.m. ET
Includes the world record holders at 1500m (Kenyan Faith Kipyegon in her first 5000m since 2015), 3000m steeplechase (Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech) and the 5000m and 10,000m (Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey). Plus new American 10,000m record holder Alicia Monson, who is third on the U.S. all-time 5000m list at 14:31.11. Shelby Houlihan has the American record of 14:23.92.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:52 p.m. ET
The three members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo — Grant HollowayDevon Allen and Daniel Roberts — could face off for the first time in nearly a year. Holloway, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, overcame a rare defeat in the Diamond League opener in Rabat to win his last two races. He is the fastest man in the world this year at 13.01 seconds. Allen isn’t far behind at 13.12, while Roberts has yet to race the hurdles this outdoor season.

Women’s 400m — 4:02 p.m. ET
Could very well determine the favorite for worlds. Reigning Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on maternity leave. Paulino is the only other woman to break 49 seconds since the start of the pandemic, and she’s done it each of the last two years. Naser is the only other active woman to have broken 49 seconds, doing so in winning the 2019 World title (before she was banned for two years, through the Tokyo Olympics, for missing drug tests). McLaughlin-Levrone’s personal best from 2018 is 50.07 seconds, but she was just 18 years old then and focusing on the hurdles. Still, that time would have won the 2022 U.S. title. Last month, University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson ran the fastest time by an American since 2009 — 49.13 — but she might bypass the flat 400m to focus on the hurdles this summer.

Men’s 100m — 4:12 p.m. ET
Could be a meeting between the reigning Olympic men’s 100m champion (Marcell Jacobs of Italy) and world men’s 200m champion (American Noah Lyles), which hasn’t happened since the 2009 World Championships 100m final, where Usain Bolt lowered the world record to 9.58 seconds and American Tyson Gay was second in a then-American record 9.71. Later in that meet, Bolt won his first world 200m title, a crown he held concurrently with his Olympic 100m titles through his 2017 retirement. But Jacobs, citing nerve pain, scratched out of the last two Diamond League meets, which were to be showdowns with world 100m champion Fred Kerley. Jacobs did show up for Thursday’s press conference. Lyles has a bye onto the world team in the 200m, but also wants to make the four-man U.S. team in the 100m. He ranks fifth among Americans by best time this season — 9.95.

Men’s 800m — 4:51 p.m. ET
The top five from the world championships are entered, led by Olympic and world champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya. This event was in an international doldrums for much of the time since Kenyan David Rudisha repeated as Olympic champion in 2016, then faded away from competition. But the emergence of 18-year-old Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi has injected excitement this season. Wanyonyi is the world’s fastest man this year. The second-fastest, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamal, is also in this field.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the TV window for the meet broadcast. The CNBC broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, not 3.

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