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2008 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Softball

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2008 Olympic games will be the end of a short and exciting era for softball, but U.S. head coach Mike Candrea is still steaming about the International Olympic Committee's decision to eliminate the sport.

Since the Europeans rarely field a team that's able to qualify for the Olympics (only one of this year's eight clubs is from Europe), Candrea feels they are the ones to blame for the abrupt exit. With the 2012 games being played in London, it was also a perfect time to remove the American-based sport from world competition.

In Candrea's eyes, Europe wields the power in the IOC and the only way the delegates' minds can be altered is by allowing them to see how Olympic softball can change the way the world views the sport. Unfortunately, that won't be happening anytime soon.

Rewind back to the summer of 2005 when a secret ballot was held in Singapore. The IOC ruled against maintaining baseball and softball, the first time an Olympic event had been removed since 1936.

Many onlookers felt the reason for softball's dismissal was due to the tremendous bashing the Americans gave the rest of the world as they easily won gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004, but Candrea belittle's that logic, "I really don't think the competition (or lack of) had anything to do with the IOC's decision to drop softball from the Olympics. If it did, then we are trying to fight a battle we could never win."

Many folks in the U.S. have wondered if the rest of the world's IOC delegates were unable to distinguish softball from baseball, in a sense, lumping the two together. Since baseball is not internationally popular, it was the first to be removed, with softball ending up as the sacrificial lamb.

Candrea has been extremely adamant the main reason the IOC dropped softball is its tie-in with baseball. Even Jennie Finch once remarked, "softball is the sister sport of baseball."

Regardless of the decision, there are still games to be played in Beijing prior to the next IOC vote in October of 2009 when softball and/or baseball can be reinstated.

The Americans, who blitzed through their competition back in 2004 with a 9-0 mark outscoring the opposition 51-1, bring back 10 of the 15 members from that record-setting club.

Among them, Crystl Bustos, who banged out five home runs and 10 RBI in '04 - both Olympic records - and Natasha Watley, who batted .400 in Athens, tying the team mark with 12 base hits.

Lisa Fernandez, perhaps the finest softball player to have ever graced the diamond, failed to make the final cut, as she was unable to return to form after a three year hiatus starting a family. She was however, named as a replacement player in case of injury. Bustos had this to say about Fernandez, "She will always be a leader on the team and to us. She may not be in the dugout but her leadership will always be with us. We will carry that leadership into the arena in Beijing."

Without Fernandez, who won four games in the previous Olympics, one might expect the U.S. to be vulnerable, but that notion will quickly fade once the rest of the world gets its fill of Monica Abbott, who will join Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman in the rotation. Abbott was last year's USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year after breaking Osterman's NCAA record for most career strikeouts while at the University of Tennessee.

Still, it will be up to Finch and Osterman to shut down the opposition, which if 2004 is any indication (a combined 4-0 record), should garner a fourth consecutive gold medal for the Americans.

Team U.S.A. will begin that quest on day four of the Olympics when Mike Candrea's squad battles Venezuela. The other six countries competing for gold are Japan (runner-up in the World Championships), Australia (third place in the Worlds), Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands. The eight teams will play each other one time with the top four clubs advancing to the medal round and the two winners will meet in the Gold Medal game on day 13.

07/17 13:14:00 ET

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