An Olympic roster named in 2019 remains intact for 2021

Monica Abbott
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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:

Monica Abbott
Ali Aguilar
Valerie Arioto
Ally Carda
Amanda Chidester
Rachel Garcia
Haylie McCleney
Michelle Moultrie
Dejah Mulipola
Aubree Munro
Bubba Nickles
Cat Osterman
Janie Reed
Delaney Spaulding
Kelsey Stewart

Replacement Players: Taylor Edwards, Hannah Flippen, Keilani Ricketts.

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MORE: Softball’s Olympic return will not include NCAA home run record holder

Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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