Nineteen former and current Olympic softball players from the United States, with 36 Olympic medals between them, have reunited for an exhibition game at the University of New Orleans.
The match represented not only a celebration of the 20th anniversary of softball’s entrance into the Olympic program, but also the sport’s return to the Olympic Games in 2020 after being left out of the last two Games.
It brought together Olympians from all four squads of Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 in which the American team won gold at three and lost to Japan in the final in the Chinese capital.
Opposing the Olympians were a team called the Louisville Slugger Warriors, a group of US military service members and veterans.
The team composed of injured veterans and active duty military personnel with both physical wounds, who are aided by modern prosthetic technology, and invisible wounds including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“Time has passed but you reconnect like nothing ever happened,” said Laura Berg, Team USA’s only four-time softball Olympian.
“We share something that very few people will ever will able to experience.
“It’s a sisterhood. We have friendships that will last a lifetime because of that bond.”
Berg joked that she has won “three gold medals and one silver that we don’t like to talk about,” referencing the runner-up finish to Japan in Beijing.
Despite that one blemish, the US enjoyed dominance in the sport thanks in large part to the group of players on show in New Orleans.
For Monica Abbott, the youngest team member in 2008, a return to Olympic competition for the 2020 Tokyo Games is a possibility.
“If I can still compete at the highest level, I would like to represent Team USA and help it compete at the highest level in Tokyo in 2020,” said Abbott, now 31 and playing in the sport’s professional league, National Pro Fastpitch.
“In 2020, obviously I would be one of the oldest and that would be a total role reversal.”
Amateur softball has continued to grow in the US, even during the sport’s absence from the Olympic Games.
The Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City has become a significant event on the calendar, as has the World Cup of Softball, held every summer in the US.
The Olympians agreed that the return to Olympic competition as a motivating force for youngsters can only accelerate the sport’s growth.
“I have so many wonderful memories from being in the Olympic Village to the Opening Ceremony and competing on that stage,” said Lisa Fernandez, a three-time Olympian who was on the first US Olympic team in 1996.
“There’s nothing like the adrenaline, the energy, the commitment and the pride that you have when America comes together and the softball community comes together.
Fernandez said she senses an excitement surrounding softball’s return to the Olympics, similar to the one she experienced when it debuted 20 years ago
“I think everyone is coming in with renewed excitement and renewed vigor,” Fernandez said.
“We were disappointed when it was taken out and now that it’s coming back we’re rejuvenated.
“You appreciate the opportunity to represent the red, white and blue unlike any other.”
By Max Winters
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.