Monday, August 8, 2016

Softballers Worldwide React to Olympic News

Upon last week's decision by the International Olympic Committee that softball, among other sports, will be added to the Olympic slate for the 2020 Games, the entire softball world celebrated with joy to see the sport's return to athletics' biggest stage in the world. We spoke exclusively to several international softball players and coaches to get their reactions to the news.

Softball will return to the Olympic
Games in Tokyo, Japan in 2020.

USA Director of National Teams Ronnie Isham shared, "Alright, already softball is back where it should be. Dreams of thousands of young women and girls have been restored. [This makes] a huge impact in continued growing of the sport worldwide well into the future."

Team Canada standouts Jenny Gilbert and Larissa Franklin, now just a few years removed from what is likely to be the first Olympic appearances of their lengthy international careers, were understandably excited about the prospect:

"This is a dream come true for softball players, families, and fans worldwide," Gilbert, also a star slugger for the Akron Racers, said. "For me, it means the chance again to achieve the dream I've had since I was eight. I grew up watching the Olympians that I have gotten to play alongside and against in the NPF and with Team Canada. Now with softball being reinstated for 2020, there will be that same opportunity for us who were too young to play before. This game is such a true embodiment of what strong independent women are, and able to thrive in a team environment. The world deserves to watch this incredible game! We are so fortunate and blessed for this!"

Franklin shared, "I love seeing the way this has brought the whole softball community together! There is so much to look forward to, so much to dream about, not just for myself but for teammates, competitors and young softball players. When I was their age, being an Olympian was possible and I can't believe it is again. I'm excited to see the impact this will have and how it will grow the game! What a great day!"

Their Canadian teammate, the Canucks’ 2016 ‘Comeback Kid’ and a veteran of Olympic competition herself, Lauren Bay Regula could barely find words, but did manage to express her enthusiasm following the decision: “I am so excited for the sport and for all the girls - all levels and all ages - that play. Softball players always have played for the love of the game - now they get to play for the love of the game AND a chance to represent their countries at the event which is the pinnacle of all sports. Words can't describe how happy I am for those girls. I can't wait to see how the sport grows over the next four years!”

On the other side of the North American continent, former Kansas standout Chanin Naudin is in her second year as a member of Team Mexico and stands a good chance of being on the Mexican squad in Tokyo. “I am incredibly excited for what this means for softball around the world,” she said. “Since softball has been removed from the Olympic Games, players have continued to compete internationally but without the support and recognition that is deserved. This gives softball players around the world a chance to compete on the biggest stage. The opportunity is incredible and I am thankful young players can now dream of being in the Olympics.”

"It [was] a phenomenal and monumental day for the future of our great sport! It gives young girls and current players from all around the world hope again!” was the exultation from Chelsea Forkin, now of the 2008 Bronze-medal-winning Aussie squad from down under.

The excitement was far from just limited to the players in uniform on the diamond… plenty of folks who spend time in the dugout and coaching box weren’t running short on excitement either. Longtime international coach and current head coach of the upstart Ugandan national team Joni Frei, coming off her team’s first-ever international competition in the World Championships in Surrey, called herself ‘thrilled’ and ‘proud’ after the announcement, saying, in part, “I am beyond thrilled that softball has been reinstated and will return to the Olympic platform in 2020. This is a very important time for our sport. I couldn't be more proud of the efforts our softball community has made both domestically and internationally to develop the growth of our sport… There’s no doubt softball deserves to be back in the Olympics; it’s a huge win and we have earned every bit of it! Not only will little girls’ dreams of playing softball in the Olympics become reality, but women all over the world will continue to be empowered by the game. This is momentous. I’m in awe that something as simple as a yellow round ball has the power to impact nations around the globe.”

Jimmy Kolaitis, of the freshman restart Greek National team and an assistant coach for the Oregon Ducks, added, "It's great to see softball back in the Olympics. The game is growing internationally and deserves to be played on this stage. Any time you have an opportunity to represent your country, it is a special time. So many young athletes will now have this chance to wear their nation's colors. Can't wait to see what the future holds for this sport."

One of the best quotes that I've seen since the decision came from international playing and coaching veteran Jamie Wohlbach: "I am so excited softball is back in the Olympics! Japan 2020! This allows our sport to grow more at the youth levels and around the world! It provides our athletes a dream to aspire to become an Olympic champion… When softball was dismissed after Beijing, dreams had been shattered. Dreams of every rising softball star to become an Olympic athlete were no longer possible. I saw many tears, with tears of hope destroyed. However, the softball community held strong. Grass root efforts were organized in relentless petitions to the IOC. Each year, athletes were hoping and waiting for a turn around decision… Recently, I assisted in coaching the Peru National team at the World Championships. To see such a wide range of talent from the best in the world, to some of the countries playing for the first World tournament ever was amazing! It shows the world did not give up on the sport! It gives back to many young women. It gives you a family, strength and love of representing your country with pride.”

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