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Is U.S. Too Good at Softball?

Posted by mikeyactive on Aug 19, 2008 5:04:10 PM

The good news: Team USA  has dominated every one of their opponents during the Beijing Olympics. The bad  news: Team USA  has dominated every one of their opponents during the Beijing Olympics.

       There was a time when the competitive balance of fastpitch softball on the  international level was fairly even. During the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the distance  between the pitching mound and home plate was a paltry 40 feet; leading to  close—if high-scoring games--that gave any international team a chance to win.

"Granted the games went too long but at least they were competitive and  everybody had a chance to beat us,” said  Hall of Fame softballer Michele Smith . “Australia had a  chance to beat us and did. Japan  had a chance to beat us and did beat us. China did the same thing. That's  exciting."  

Some fear the now standard 43 feet between mound and plate in international  play, which was introduced to cut down on scoring, has produced a competitive  advantage for a dominant USA Softball pitching staff that is almost impossible  to hit.   

And losing the Olympics might be the price we pay for success.  

We're Number One 

Everyone has a theory about what happened. Why a sport that seemed to be  ascending in the world of international competition was suddenly removed from  the Olympic rotation after the 2008 games in Beijing.   

Some, such as Smith, think softball got lumped in with the national pastime  unintentionally. "I think they expected to make that decision for baseball  and not for softball. It was a comedy of events for softball to get voted  out." Others think it's nothing more than an Anti-American bias. (Check  any softball message board for affirmation to this fact.)   

Others, like shortstop Natasha Watley of the U.S. National team, think the  international fan base just isn't there. "Softball is a great spectator  sport. We have great fans here in the U.S. But I think that's where we're  hurting. It's not a world-wide sport."  

But everyone agrees that it's imperative to get softball back in the  Olympics. Not just so players like Cat Osterman and Jennie Finch have places to  throw their devastating riseballs but for countries who depend on international  Olympic funding to support their teams and promote softball in their respective  countries.  

"I worry about the Australian teams--Italy,  Great Britain, and Greece,"  Smith points out. "Any of the teams that were really starting to make some  progress in the European countries where we have to get stronger--it's  essentially going to kill them over there."  

Beijing or Bust 

Osterman echoes the sentiments of many current and former USA softball players when she stresses the  significance of this year’s games in China. "This is one of our  last go-arounds. We're ready to put everything we have into it."   

But it may be the performance of the Chinese National Team that determines  softball's chances for inclusion in the 2016 games. Of all the rising teams in  international play, nobody has improved faster or spent more money leading up  to the games than China.   

So if you see some members of the USA Softball fraternity privately waving a  Chinese flag during the Olympic Games you'll know it's not just case of  conflicted loyalties -- but self-preservation.

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