By Karen Price | Aug. 12, 2018, 2:41 a.m. (ET)

 

It may have been a lengthy wait to get softball back in the Olympic Games – after its absence for two Games – but it didn’t take the U.S. team long to qualify. 

The WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship taking place this week in Chiba, Japan, marked the first chance for any nation to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The U.S. guaranteed its spot Sunday without setting foot on the field for the gold-medal game.

The winner of the world championship tournament, in which the U.S. is undefeated at 9-0, earns a quota spot at the Olympics. However, since Japan is hosting the Games, it receives an automatic host country quota for the six-team tournament. The U.S. defeated Japan in the playoffs to make it into the gold-medal game. Japan then went on to win the bronze-medal game to also advance to the championship final. This meant that, win or lose, the U.S. would claim the coveted Olympic berth.

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Team USA will now aim to defend its 2016 world title with a win over Japan on Sunday in the championship game. It’s also another chance for Team USA to knock off its archrival on the international stage. Then the U.S. women can turn their attention to avenging the heartbreaking loss to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008.

The U.S. holds three gold medals and one silver from the Olympics, winning three years in a row beginning with the sport’s debut in 1996 in Atlanta before falling to Japan in 2008 in Beijing. With softball having been voted out of the Olympic program back in 2005, it was a bittersweet end to Team USA’s run not knowing when or if it would ever get the chance to stand atop the Olympic podium again.

Then in 2016, after a couple failed attempts to bring the sport back, the International Olympic Committee voted softball back in for the 2020 Games. The sport’s status for 2024 is still up in the air.

The women who represent the U.S. at the 2020 Games will be selected that year.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.