Softball

Tokyo Olympics to feature new sports, return of baseball, softball in 2020

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A look at new sports and new events with one year to the Tokyo Games, which will have the most sports (33) and events (339) in Olympic history …

New Sports
Baseball/Softball
Not entirely “new.” Baseball and softball were on the Olympic program in the 1990s and 2000s, but voted off following the 2008 Beijing Games. This could be the sports’ lone return to the Games. Baseball and softball were not proposed by Paris 2024 organizers, and it remains to be seen what will happen for Los Angeles 2028. It appears that MLB players will not take part (as it was in baseball’s previous Olympic appearances), but two U.S. Olympic softball stars of the past are hoping to get back to the Games — pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman.

Karate
Like baseball and softball, karate is not on the Olympic program beyond Tokyo. With modern origins in Japan in the early 1900s, the eight medal events should draw a crowd. There will be three weight classes per gender in the head-to-head fighting discipline of kumite, plus one men’s and one women’s division in kata, which is performed individually.

Skateboarding
The latest X Games sport to join the Olympic program. Skateboarding will feature two disciplines — street and park for men and women. Three-time Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion Shaun White showed interest in trying to qualify, but he has competed just once and that was last summer. Instead, teenagers and even preteens have taken up most of the early headlines, including Sky Brown, an 11-year-old, Japanese-born British athlete who would be the youngest Olympian since 1992.

Sport Climbing
This is not Alex Honnold free soloing El Capitan, but it already has Olympic roots from the Youth Summer Games. One set of medals will be awarded per gender, combining three disciplines: lead, speed, and bouldering. From Tokyo 2020: Speed climbing pits two climbers against each other, both climbing a fixed route on a 15-meter wall at a 95-degree angle. Winning times are generally between five and eight seconds. In bouldering, climbers scale a number of fixed routes on a four-meter wall in a specified time without safety ropes. In lead climbing, athletes attempt to climb as high as possible on a wall measuring over 15 meters in height within a fixed time with safety ropes.

Surfing
The U.S. has a chance to rack up medals here, given it currently boasts the world’s top-ranked man (Kolohe Andino) and woman (Carissa Moore). Icon Kelly Slater, the 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is in position to qualify but is unsure if he wants to fulfill all the eligibility requirements. The “father of surfing” is actually an Olympian — five-time swimming medalist Duke Kahanamoku, who asked the IOC to consider adding surfing to the Games a century ago.

Notable New Events
Basketball: 3×3
The format: Games last 10 minutes, or until one team scores 21 points. Games are played on a half-court with a 12-second shot clock, and offense immediately turns to defense after a team scores. Former Purdue star Robbie Hummel just led the U.S. men to a world title and is favored to be part of the four-man Olympic team given it’s highly unlikely NBA players will take part.

Swimming/Track and Field: Mixed-Gender Relays
Mixed-gender events make Olympic debuts in two of the Games’ marquee sports. In swimming, a mixed 4x100m medley is on the program. Mixed relays debuted at the world championships in 2015, and this extra event could help American Caeleb Dressel approach Michael Phelps‘ record eight gold medals at a single Games. In track and field, a mixed 4x400m is slated for the first two days of the competition schedule, before the individual 400m.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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

Lauren Chamberlain
Ty Russell/OU Athletics
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Lauren Chamberlain, who smacked the most home runs in NCAA softball history, has retired one year before the sport returns to the Olympics in Tokyo.

“I’m officially announcing my retirement, and I never thought that I would say those words,” she said on ESPN at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. “But unfortunately, I can only go as far as my body will let me, and it’s just not letting me go any further.”

Chamberlain, 25, smacked 95 home runs while at the University of Oklahoma from 2012 to 2015, but she never played on a U.S. team at a world championship. Shoulder and back surgeries the last two years set back a potential bid to make the 15-woman Olympic team.

She was one of 43 players invited to try out for this year’s national team but did not make the cut of 18 in January. The 2020 Olympic roster will be 15 players. Selection trials will be held in the fall.

Two pitchers with Olympic experience are the most notable names on the current national team — 2004 and 2008 Olympian Cat Osterman and 2008 Olympian Monica Abbott.

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Ken Eriksen named U.S. Olympic softball coach for sport’s return

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Ken Eriksen, the longtime U.S. national softball team head coach, will be the Olympic head coach at the 2020 Tokyo Games, softball’s return to the Olympic program for the first time since 2008.

Eriksen, the U.S. head coach since 2011, guided world championship-winning teams in 2016 and 2018, the latter qualifying the Americans for the Tokyo Olympics.

“The players that kept the dream alive for every girl that has played this game deserve all the credit,” Eriksen said in a press release. “There have been so many who’s names will not be on the roster in Tokyo that have helped us maintain a gold-level standard. I will never forget what they did for this program and for the United States.”

A former fastpitch player, Eriksen has also coached the University of South Florida women’s program since 1996 and was an assistant on the last U.S. Olympic title team in 2004.

Eriksen will become the third U.S. Olympic softball head coach, following the late Ralph Raymond (1996 and 2000) and Mike Candrea (2004 and 2008).

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