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.