As a player, Laura Berg made history with the U.S. national women’s softball team, winning four medals and becoming the only American player to participate in four Olympic Games in the sport.
As a coach, she’s now helping to develop some of the players who will welcome softball back to the Olympic program in 2020.
Berg started playing softball when she was just 6 years old because her twin sister Randi wanted to, and Berg wanted to do everything her sister did.
The Berg sisters went on to play college ball at Fresno State University, where Laura was a four-time All-America selection. She finished her career in 1998 as the all-time leader in hits (396), runs (245) and triples (25) and still holds the records today. That same year she helped the Bulldogs to win their first-ever national championship, and in 2015 the school retired her No. 44 jersey.
It was while she was at Fresno State that she began to dream of representing the United States in 1996 in Atlanta and playing on home soil as softball made its Olympic debut. The center fielder joined the national team in 1994 at age 19 and made her own Olympic debut on July 21, 1996, in the first round-robin game of the tournament, a 10-0 win over Puerto Rico. The U.S. would lose just one game that year and earned its first gold medal in a 3-1 win over China. Berg scored the first run in the gold-medal game.
Four years later Berg returned to the Olympics and had one of those storybook moments that will remain forever etched in her memory when she had the game-winning hit against Japan in the eighth inning and Team USA won its second gold medal.
The U.S. would add yet another gold in Athens in 2004 before a disappointing loss to Japan in Beijing in 2008 would give the team a silver medal. There are only three other women besides Berg who medaled in four Olympics, and all played for Australia.
Laura Berg celebrates after scoring a run in the preliminary-round softball game between the U.S. and Italy on Aug. 14, 2004 at the Olympic Games Athens 2004 in Athens, Greece.
All told, Berg won a total of 11 medals, 10 of them gold, at the Olympics, world championships and Pan American Games.
In 2005, however, the IOC voted to drop softball and baseball from the Olympics beginning in 2012. There would be no gold medal redemption in London.
Berg was already well into her coaching her career at that point, having served as an assistant with Fresno State from 2000-03 and again from 2005-06.
She retired from international competition in 2008 and joined Oregon State as an assistant coach in 2012. That same year, she joined USA Softball as an assistant coach for the women’s world championships, and her summertime partnership with the national team has continued ever since. She’s also been the head coach at Oregon State since 2013.
During her first four seasons as an assistant with Team USA, the women’s national team won three gold medals at the World Cup, two silvers at the world championships and a silver at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Then in 2017, Berg was named head coach of the junior women’s national team.
In January, USA Softball announced that Berg will coach the women’s national team at the Japan All-Star Series this summer.
With the Olympics returning in 2020, many of the players whom Berg coaches, both in college and on the national teams, could be among those picking up where she and her teammates were forced to leave off in 2008.
“It’s the pinnacle of softball,” Berg, now 43, told The Fresno Bee after the 2016 announcement that softball would be added back to the Games. “The Olympics is what you strive for as a player. You have the professional league, but it’s not on the same level as the MLB, and to have this to strive for is completely different.”