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

Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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