The Tokyo Games postponement to 2021 was a change-up for U.S. Olympic sports bodies, which all of a sudden faced a decision: keep those who had already been named to an Olympic team for 2020, or reopen qualifying once sports resume?
USA Softball was the first national governing body to name its entire Olympic roster before the coronavirus pandemic, back on Oct. 6. And the only one so far in a team sport — key as athletes don’t qualify by individual performance, but are chosen subjectively, usually by a committee.
The 15 best U.S. softball players in October 2019 might not be the 15 best U.S. softball players in July 2021. Softball is back on the Olympic program for the first time since 2008 — but will not be on the Olympic program in 2024, nor guaranteed a place at the Games in 2028 and beyond.
It could very well be the one and only Olympics for all of the players (save two who were on the 2008 team), making USA Softball’s decision for 2021 a potentially life-changing one for those on the roster named last fall and those who missed out.
A USA Softball spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the 2020 Olympic roster named on Oct. 6 will remain the 2021 Olympic roster, as was largely expected but not a sure thing.
That team includes Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, the two pitchers in the last Olympic softball game in 2008, a 3-1 loss to Japan in the gold-medal game in Beijing.
Osterman, a 37-year-old who unretired in 2015, will become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic softball player in history and the oldest pitcher. The sport debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Abbott, 34, was the winning pitcher in the last world championship final in 2018, when the U.S. beat Japan on an extra-inning, walk-off single.
Baseball and softball were cut from the Olympic program by an IOC members vote in 2005, the first sports axed from the Olympics since polo in 1936. 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 recused from each vote — American Jim Easton, who cited conflict of interest as he owned Easton Sports, best known for making baseball and softball bats. One other member abstained. Had Easton voted for softball, it would have remained in the Olympics. Had anybody switched in favor of softball, it would have remained in the Olympics.
Critics said softball wasn’t global enough. Not popular in Europe. That the U.S. dominated (before Japan became the first country other than the U.S. to take gold in 2008). With the Olympic program capped at 28 sports at the time, cutting two sports would allow for two new ones to be added. That didn’t happen for 2012, but golf and rugby got onto the 2016 Olympic program.
Softball’s backers experienced further heartbreak when the IOC voted it down again in 2006, 2009 (losing to rugby and golf for the Rio Games) and 2013 (losing to wrestling, which remained on the Olympic program).
Softball and other sports received new life for the 2020 Olympics when the IOC in December 2014 approved Agenda 2020, which included a provision that an Olympic host city could propose sports to be added for its specific edition of the Games, starting with Tokyo 2020.
Baseball and softball are among the most popular sports in Japan. Tokyo organizers submitted baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing in 2015. The IOC approved their inclusion, two days before the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Softball was originally scheduled as the first sport to be contested at the Tokyo Olympics, its first games two days before the Opening Ceremony and in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. It’s expected to remain as scheduled in July 2021.
The full U.S. Olympic softball team named on Oct. 9:
Replacement Players: Taylor Edwards, Hannah Flippen, Keilani Ricketts.
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