Softball is Back in the Olympics, and so are the 10 Veterans of 2008

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TOKYO – At the time of the 2008 Olympics, Kaleigh Rafter was 21 years old and represented Canada, although he had not yet finished his college softball career. Still, he thought he wouldn’t have a chance to play at the Olympics any more as his sport was removed from the permanent program.

“I remember saying to my roommate, ‘I’ll never be 34 on this team,'” said Rafter, who recently became a hunter. “‘It won’t be me. I’ll have quit the sport by then.’

“And then definitely, here I am.”

Not only has Rafter returned to the Olympics, so are his Canadian teammates Lauren Regula, Jenn Salling and Danielle Lawrie. So are Yukiko Ueno, Eri Yamada, and Yukiyo Mine from Japan. Then there’s Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott from the USA and Stacey Porter from Australia. All 10 players are participating in this tournament more than a decade after playing in the 2008 Games.

“It’s kind of crazy to have 10 and it’s really great,” said Porter, 39, captain and infielder of the Australian team.

For many Olympians, participating in the Games is a lifetime achievement. For the best, an Olympic career could appear two, three, or even – in the case of ageless Brazilian football player Formiga – seven times at the Games. But it is much rarer that these multiple journeys are separated by a generation.

Life can go on. And for many softball players it was. They went to school, played professionally, worked as a coach, started businesses, got married, had children, struggled with injuries and other hardships, and many retired.

But all 10 veterans of 2008, who returned this summer, continued to play for their national teams. This made their comeback a testament to their talent and commitment to a sport once unwelcome by the Olympics.

“It just shows that you don’t have to quit this game in your 20s or early 30s,” said Osterman, 38. “You can keep playing and keep succeeding. No one blinks when men do it, so women show that we can keep playing.”

Wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for softball A strict vote by the International Olympic Committee in 2005 removed this sport from the 2012 London Games programme. Then the reviews Wasn’t that softball – and baseball’s Olympic male equivalent – global enough?

When the IOC’s vote reached Osterman, he described it as a “blind sucker punch.”

“I thought 2008 would be like that for me,” said Regula, now 39. “And I remember thinking that would be a big hit for softball. There are so many baseball players out there that I felt like we would never – at the time, have the opportunities we had because we didn’t know if they would come back. ”

Above all, Regula worried that young girls would no longer desire to play baseball or dream of the Olympics.

Two years after Japan’s ace Ueno led his country to upset the United States for the gold medal in 2008, Osterman and Abbott, two of the world’s most decorated shooters, left the US national team. With no Olympics in sight, they focused on their professional careers. Both played in the United States and Abbott also played in Japan, and both supplemented their incomes with college coaching, clinics or motivational speaking.

In 2015, still uncertain about when Olympic softball would return, Osterman walked away from pitching altogether. She said she was ready to “settle, marry and live a life”.

Regula and Lawrie also retired after the 2008 Olympics for family reasons. Lawrie, now 34, left Team Canada in 2012 and professional softball in 2014 to give birth to her daughter. He said he was “really happy” to retire and wouldn’t have sacrificed his time to leave and rejoin his family in 2018 if it weren’t for Salling and Rafter, the two pillars of the Canadian program.

Regula retired after the Beijing Olympics as she had married a year ago, wanted to start her family (she had three children in three years as of 2009), and soon owned a gym with her husband. She did not pick up the ball again until 2016, when she represented Canada at the Women’s Softball World Championships.

Despite knowing that Olympic softball is back in 2020, Regula was busy running his family and business and retired again. Itch came back in 2019 while working as a broadcaster and working in the tournament where Canada qualified for the Tokyo Games.

He returned to the top the following year and was drafted in May, making a comeback by watching his teammates play even as he aged. “I didn’t even think I’d be in this position right now,” he said.

From Japan’s team, Mine retired It returned briefly in 2015, but only when the Olympic return of softball was announced next year. (A team official said Mine, Ueno and Yamada were not available to be interviewed ahead of the Olympics because they were busy preparing.)

Over the years, Osterman said that he and Abbott, 35, have not missed the Olympics because they have played at a high level professionally. He felt bitter about being excluded in 2012. Abbott said that after quitting volleyball, it was difficult to watch the Olympics and he felt the efforts to get it. reinstated they were endless.

“It was definitely kind of a disappointment when there would be the Olympics, and people got excited and you couldn’t go,” he said. “It’s not mandatory for me, but it just wasn’t there for that softball. We didn’t have such an opportunity.”

After the 2008 Olympics, the Women’s Softball World Cup was shifted from every four years to two years. Combined with the Pan American Games and other international competitions, the events only helped satisfy some competitive urges of the players.

“It tastes like an Oreo when you know it’s not real Oreo,” said Rafter of other tournaments. “The Olympics will never happen. An Olympic medal is very different from a world championship medal, although that’s what we’re playing for. ”

Even after Softball’s return to the Tokyo Games was confirmed, Osterman did not miss the opportunity to return. He said he was glad to retire, but his former USA softball teammates Kelly Kretschman and Abbott continued to buzz him into rethinking.

While players like Lawrie had serious doubts about sticking to the Olympics after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to postpone the 2020 Games, Osterman didn’t. He had done so much to get to this point, including stepping out of retirement and resigning from his assistant coaching position at Texas State University to focus on education.

“I didn’t have a part of me that wanted to go back,” he said.

During softball’s Olympic holiday, most players said the quality of the international game improved as more players developed in the American college and professional ranks. Yet the United States and Japan remain the world’s powerhouses.

But the return of these Games still feels bittersweet. Softball will not be at the 2024 Games in Paris because baseball and softball are not popular in France. However, both sports are expected to return in 2028 in Los Angeles.

Osterman and Abbott said that if they were at the Olympics at the time, perhaps they would have been coaches, not players.

Four of Team Canada’s veterans burst into laughter when asked in a recent video chat whether they would continue until then. What is seven years after waiting 13? “I don’t know if I can make sense of delaying life to 41,” Rafter said.

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