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Osterman, Abbott headline 2019 USA Softball roster

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Cat Osterman has two Olympic medals and one of the most impressive resumes in her sport. That didn’t stop her from crying when she learned she’d made the 2019 USA Softball roster.

“I am not even too proud to say I bawled like a baby,” Osterman told ESPN. “I just cried.”

On Monday, USA Softball announced the 18 players who will compete in tournaments and events in the next few months before the roster is trimmed to 15 for the Pan American Games this summer.

Osterman, the youngest member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 2004, and Monica Abbott, Osterman’s teammate four years later in Beijing (and the youngest member of that team), are the only two with Olympic experience. The roster includes 13 members of the team that won the WSBC World Championship last summer (including Abbott), qualifying the U.S. for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Osterman and Abbott are two of the most accomplished women in softball: Abbott, 33, pitched a perfect game in an 8-0 victory over the Netherlands at the 2008 Beijing Games, where the U.S. finished with a silver medal. In 2016, the Salinas, California native signed the first $1 million contract in the National Pro Fastpitch League with the Scrap Yard Dawgs (the Texas-based team is now called Scrap Yard Fast Pitch and competes independently).

Osterman, 35, retired in 2015. But in October 2018, she announced her return to the sport, hoping to vie for a spot on the 2020 Olympic team. Currently a pitching coach at Texas State, she had her doubts about coming back to high-level competition: “I struggled in some parts [of the tryout] and felt like I was back to my old self in parts,” she told ESPN. “When you haven’t seen a hitter in a game situation in more than 1200 days, it’s going to take some getting used to.” But Osterman, who pitched in the 3-1 loss to Japan in the 2008 Beijing final, felt she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete for another Olympic spot. “Plain and simple, there’s unfinished business,” she posted on social media when announcing her comeback.

Selection to the 2019 roster does not guarantee players a spot on the Olympic team. USA Softball will conduct separate selection trials in the fall.

The sport will return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. U.S. women won three straight gold medals from 1996 to 2004 before losing to Japan at the Beijing Games.

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Penny Oleksiak edges Simone Manuel, Regan Smith sizzles again in Knoxville

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Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel nearly duplicated their Olympic gold-medal tie. The Canadian Oleksiak edged Manuel by .03 in the 100m freestyle at a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday night.

Oleksiak clocked 53.41 seconds, coming back from .37 behind Manuel at the 50-meter mark. The two tied for the Rio Olympic title in an Olympic record 52.70 seconds four years ago. Oleksiak was the surprise, a 16-year-old who came into the Games ranked eighth in the world for the year.

Since, Manuel swept the 2017 and 2019 World titles. Oleksiak was sixth at 2017 Worlds and withdrew before the 100m free at 2019 Worlds. She ranked 21st in the world last year. Oleksiak’s time Sunday was her fastest since 2017.

Full Knoxville meet results are here. The Pro Series’ next stop is Des Moines from March 4-7.

In other events Sunday, world-record holder Regan Smith won the 200m backstroke in 2:05.94, the fastest time ever outside of a national championships or major international meet. Smith, 17, achieved the same feat on Saturday in the 100m back, where she also broke the world record at last summer’s worlds.

Madisyn Cox won a matchup of the three fastest U.S. women in the 200m individual medley in 2019. She clocked 2:09.88, beating Alex Walsh by a half-second and Melanie Margalis by .54.

It was Cox’s fastest time since she took bronze at the 2017 World Championships. She missed the 2019 Worlds after failing a 2018 drug test over what she said was a contaminated multivitamin.

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Mikaela Shiffrin among favorites eliminated early in parallel giant slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin was upset in the round of 16 of the first World Cup parallel giant slalom by unheralded Frenchwoman Clara Direz, who went on to earn her first win on Sunday.

Shiffrin had the fastest qualifying time but was bounced in the second round of head-to-head racing in Sestriere by Direz. Direz, 24, came into the day with a best career finish of seventh.

Direz was 16th-fastest in qualifying, 1.02 seconds behind Shiffrin combining times from two runs. Direz edged Shiffrin by .13 in their head-to-head run. Shiffrin appeared to be at a disadvantage being put on the red course, which produced just three winners among 20 one-run matchups.

“It is fun; I think I like the parallel GS actually more than the parallel slalom, but it’s a little bit difficult,” Shiffrin said. “I think there’s still a lot of work we have to do, and FIS [the International Ski Federation] has to do to really make the race as even as it can be because for sure you can see, there’s always a faster course. But today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four, five gates on the blue course, you can even see just looking up the hill that it’s straighter than the red course.

“Today I would say it’s a day where the luck [of which course you draw randomly] really plays a role.”

Direz eventually beat Austrian Elisa Moerzinger in the final. Direz was on the blue course for three of her four one-run rounds. Full results are here.

Higher-ranked racers used to be have their choice of courses in the parallel format.

“Maybe that wasn’t fair, either, but I think there must be a way to make it something that is more even, but at the same time, yeah, I don’t really have the answers on how to do that, either,” Shiffrin said. “It’s still in its infancy, this event.”

Shiffrin has a track record of success in parallel slaloms and similar city events, winning five of her last six starts. But the parallel GS proved problematic for the world’s best in slalom.

Swiss Wendy Holdener and Slovakian Petra Vlhova were also eliminated before the quarterfinals after being second- and third-fastest in qualifying. Holdener was also on the red course. Vlhova lost in the round of 32, when skiers were taking runs on both the blue and red courses.

Sestriere marked the last weekend of technical races (slaloms/giant slaloms) until mid-February. The next three weekends feature downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin is expected to travel to Bansko, Bulgaria, for the first set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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