The Norman Transcript

July 10, 2013

Players want an Olympic choice

By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — If it all works out, many would have a decision to make.

Some might go their own way, begin a career or a family beyond the diamond. You know, real life. Others might live in the game as long as they’re allowed.

Nothing wrong with that.

They look forward to being faced with such a decision, as others have been faced with it before.

That’s why the eyes of the softball world will be on the September vote, in Buenes Aires, Argentina, of the International Olympic Committee.

Three (or four, depending how you look at it) different sports will be voted upon. Wrestling is up for a vote, too. So is squash. Softball and baseball are packaged together.

It recently became clear Major League Baseball owners will not release their players for Olympic play. Some wonder if that will sink the bid of both diamond sports.

USA Softball Women’s National Team coach Ken Eriksen remains optimistic.

“You have a sport in softball that’s never had a positive drug test, No. 1, the TV ratings are always high, it has worldwide appeal and it encompasses a majority of the population, which is women, and they’ll be watching,” he said. “So we have a lot of confidence.”

Softball was last an Olympic sport in 2008. It was included for the first time in 1996. The U.S. won gold in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

USA Softball is still waiting to avenge its 2008 gold medal loss to Japan at the Beijing Olympics.

The sport’s exclusion from the Games has created ripple effects felt throughout the softball world, but they’re more like waves in the U.S.

When softball was an Olympic sport, most of the national team players were in their late 20s. Now they’re college kids or just graduated college kids.

When it was an Olympic sport, USA Softball was a year-round program with a year-round training budget, stipends for players that allowed them to stay in training and significantly greater corporate sponsorship.

Now it’s a summer program.

“We’ve done a great job with what we’ve had to work with,” Eriksen said. “And college players are going to be exposed to greater competition earlier. But it doesn’t lend itself toward training.”

The truth is, were it an Olympic sport, the national team might not have as strong an Oklahoma presence and certainly wouldn’t have near the collegiate presence.

Before, the college players were filling USA Softball’s developmental rosters. Now they’re the national team.

It’s hard to imagine a slugger like OU’s Lauren Chamberlain having to wait her turn to do anything, but that might have been her destiny had her game remained a part of the Games.

It’s an interesting deal.

If the vote goes the way of the diamond sports, they would return to the 2020 Olympics, when most players on the current national team roster would be in their late 20s.

The team that opens play at the World Cup of Softball VIII Thursday night at Hall of Fame Stadium might look a whole lot like the 2020 Olympic team. You know, if there is a 2020 Olympic team and the players choose to stick with the game.

Aimee Creger, the best pitcher ever to come out of Tulsa, who’s bound to see more time in the circle this summer since Keilani Ricketts left the team in a lurch with her sudden departure, doesn’t know what she would do if softball was picked back up as an Olympic sport.

“It’s a hard decision,” she said. “We’ve all talked about it … It’s a tough decision.”

Chamberlain is more clear about the course she’d take. It goes back to a third-grade project she completed detailing how she wanted to be an Olympic softball player.

“I can say that I hope I’m still playing,” she said. “I don’t think I can give it up that soon.”

Still, what Chamberlain and Kreger really want is the same thing.

“I look forward to having to make that decision,” Chamberlain said.

It might be an impossible choice, but it’s the choice they want. 

Come September, they’ll be voting in Buenes Aires. The future of a sport might be at stake. The future of several young women who play that sport will most definitely be at stake.

If they want it to be their future. Because all they want is the choice.

Clay Horning

Follow me @clayhorning