Softball

Getty Images

Japan, Australia to open Tokyo Olympics with Fukushima softball game

Leave a comment

Japan and Australia will play the first sporting event of the Tokyo Olympics, a softball game in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo.

Japan and Australia will play on Wednesday, July 22, at 9 a.m. local time (Tuesday evening U.S. time), two days before the Opening Ceremony. In Summer Olympics, soccer matches have traditionally started days before the Opening Ceremony, though the first soccer match will not be held before the first softball game in Japan.

Italy and the U.S. will play the second softball game Wednesday at 12 p.m. local time.

The Olympic softball schedule was announced Wednesday evening.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal in 2008.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball will not remain on the Olympic program for the 2024 Paris Games.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Monica Abbott, Cat Osterman headline U.S. Olympic softball roster

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman, the last two pitchers for the U.S. softball team before the sport was cut from the Olympics in 2008, are the only two returning U.S. Olympians for softball’s return to the Games in Tokyo next summer.

Abbott and Osterman headline the 15-player roster named Sunday after selection trials this past week in Oklahoma City.

The U.S. will be a medal favorite in Tokyo, where both baseball and softball return to the Games after being voted off the program for 2012 and 2016. Baseball and softball will not be on the 2024 Paris Games and are not guaranteed to be on the Olympic program beyond that.

The Americans dramatically won the 2018 World Championship, beating Japan on a walk-off in the gold-medal game to clinch an Olympic berth. Japan will also compete as the host nation, along with Italy, Mexico, Canada and Australia.

In 2008, Japan beat the U.S. in what was, at the time, the last Olympic softball game. It marked the only time the U.S. failed to earn gold in the sport that debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Baseball and softball had already been voted off the program for 2012.

Osterman started that final, going five innings, before Abbott pitched the final two frames of a 3-1 loss. Japanese ace Yukiko Ueno, who threw a complete game, is still active, too.

The full U.S. Olympic softball team:

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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