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Softball making pitch to return to Olympics

Softball making pitch to return to Olympics

One day after the U.S. softball team failed to win the gold medal for the first time, the sport's officials pointed to Japan's victory as proof that their game is globally competitive and deserves to return to the Olympics.
The U.S. gold medal streak that dated to softball's Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996 was broken Thursday by a resilient Japanese team led by pitcher Yukiko Ueno. The victory was perhaps the strongest argument yet for softball's reinstatement.
The International Olympic Committee voted in 2005 to remove softball after the Beijing Games, and it won't be played in London in 2012.
The International Softball Federation is doing its best to keep softball on the world stage. It announced a Youth World Cup will be played in an as-yet unidentified major European city in August 2009 _ two months before a final IOC vote on whether to reinstate the sport in the 2016 Olympics. It will be a girls' 16-and-under tournament involving at least eight teams.
At a news conference Friday, the ISF pointed to the U.S. loss to Japan as proof that softball is more competitive than ever.
"I think it's an indication that things are changing," ISF president Don Porter said. "No disrespect to any of our teams, but we've been working to help raise the level of all our teams that participate in our major competition _ not only the Olympics but major world championships, our cups, and the multisport games that softball participates in.
"We want to see more equity in the competitions," he said, citing ISF efforts to work toward developing softball programs in many countries.
Until Thursday's loss, the Americans had won 22 in a row, most by outrageously lopsided scores. The "mercy rule" or more formally, the "run-ahead rule," was invoked seven times in Beijing _ five involving U.S. victories.
"I think we've heard all through our competitions ever since we started there's no doubt the U.S. has a very strong team," Porter said, adding that the victory by Japan may make people realize the Americans aren't invincible.
Added Canadian right fielder Alison Bradley, "The fact that there is a new Olympic gold medalist is huge for softball."
She also pointed out that the Netherlands returned to the Olympics softball competition for the first time since 1996 and Venezuela made its first appearance ever. "We have new nations that are making their presence known on the world stage, and I think that's really big for softball," she said.
To gain reinstatement, softball must win over the European-dominated IOC. President Jacques Rogge was among IOC members who visited the softball stadium in Beijing, which Porter said drew more than 180,000 spectators _ the most since Sydney, which brought in 197,000.
"We've got to keep after it. We're in competition with six other sports," he said.
Besides softball, also competing for two open spots in 2016 is baseball, which is also seeking reinstatement, and golf, karate, rugby, squash and roller sports.
U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said there may have been confusion among IOC members in 2005 when softball failed by one vote. "Some people actually came to me and said 'I didn't understand if I was voting for baseball or softball.' And one vote, if it was more carefully done, it would've helped softball," he said.
"It deserves to be back in the game. We'll do all we can, and I'll bet you Japan will support us," Ueberroth added.
For their part, the vanquished Americans said they would do whatever they could to get their sport back for 2016.
"Last week it was bring home the gold, and now, today, it's get it back for 2016," said pitcher Jennie Finch, her voice hoarse from exhorting her teammates. "Our sport is too great and too good to let eight years put it down."
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AP Sports Writers Bernie Wilson and Jaime Aron contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-03 13:30 GMT+08:00