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USA Softball recently announced no changes to the roster it selected in October to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, despite those Games being postponed one year.
That’s bad news for the rest of the world.
Taking the field in Tokyo will be most of the team that has spent much of the last few years as the world No. 1. Twelve players on the 15-player roster were also on the team that won the 2018 world championship and 13 of them were on the team that won the gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games. While Team USA has shown its strength against all the softball world, there is one nation in particular that stirs strong emotions among the American players: Japan.
The U.S. is the No. 1 ranked team in the world, but Japan is right on its heels at No. 2. It was Japan that Team USA beat for the 2018 world title, just the latest big game between the two softball powerhouses. The U.S. and Japan have competed at every Olympic Games since the debut of softball in 1996 and met for the gold medal in 2000 and 2008.
That 2000 Olympic tournament saw a strong Japan team go 7-0 in the preliminary round, including a 2-1 win over the United States that snapped a 112-game winning streak. Team USA went on to lose to China and Australia, struggling to a 4-3 record and the final playoff spot. But it was the Americans who won when they met Japan six days later for the gold medal, as Team USA scored a 2-1 victory in eight innings.
Team USA had assembled another winning streak by the 2008 gold-medal game, 22 in a row heading into that matchup with Japan. But Japan turned the tables, shocking Team USA with a 3-1 win that day in Beijing. Softball was then dropped from the Olympic program for 2012 and 2016, leaving all the Americans no shot at Olympic redemption.
Well, almost all the Americans.
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The U.S. women's softball team celebrates after defeating Japan 7-6 at the WBSC Women's Softball World Championship on Aug. 12, 2018 in Chiba, Japan.
Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman are the two members of Team USA who were on the field for the final in Beijing and will take the field again in Tokyo. The shot at revenge is better late than never for the two veterans, who will join with younger stars making their Olympic debuts like Haylie McCleney and Dejah Mulipola. Few are as familiar with Japan as Abbott, who has played pro softball in Japan since 2009.
“Monica, just like Cat, has a ton of experience when it comes to international ball but even more so with playing in Japan,” McCleney told The Olympic Channel in April. “Knowing their culture, how they approach the game, she obviously gets to play against almost every single one of the Japanese national team members every year so that softball IQ that Monica has is extremely valuable.”
Unfortunately for whichever nation comes out on top in Tokyo, the players know the Olympic future of their sport is again uncertain. Softball is not on the Olympic program for 2024, and will have to be reevaluated for 2028, though hope his high with those Games back in the United States where softball is popular. With the future unknown, Team USA is focused on getting that gold medal back.
“I'm counting down the days," said McCleney, “I don't know how many days until it's going to happen now but I'm counting down the days.”
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.