Softballer Leah Parry will make her Olympic Games debut next week when she takes the field with her Aussie Spirit teammates in Tokyo. She’s looking to seek redemption for being one of the unlucky few to miss selection for Beijing in 2008, the last time the sport was included in the Olympic program.
Softball is the first sport to get underway at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the first time since 1996 a sport other than football will open proceedings at an Olympic Games. The July 21 date also marks the 25th anniversary of softball’s Olympic Games debut in 1996 in Atlanta.
“We’re really excited. It’s been a long time coming,” Parry told The Inner Sanctum.
Australia is one of the teams kicking off the softball competition in Tokyo, along with host nation Japan. The team’s preparation began when they travelled to Ota City for camp in early June, feeling like they needed to gather as a group to focus on training and being around each other after having not played competitively since February 2020 at the Australia Pacific Cup in Sydney.
The Spirit infielder believes it was a major benefit for the side to be the first international team to arrive in Japan ahead of the Olympic Games, saying the whole team is looking forward to the challenge of the upcoming tournament.
“It’s been really important for us and we’re all very glad to be here with so much time before the Games,” Parry commented.
“It’s given us the opportunity to click and bond as a team and just do what we need to do which is physically play side-by-side next to each other to build that relationship and connection. Being together in the training environment has been really important for us.”
For 41-year-old Parry, her selection as one of 15 athletes on the roster for the Spirit announced earlier this month showed her reward for effort in continuing to work towards an Olympic dream.
In 2008, she was in the mix of making the squad for the Beijing Games, but was unfortunately cut from the final team. Parry revealed she had a feeling it wasn’t going to be good news, but says the setback made her hungrier to prove she could continue to make national teams and compete internationally.
“I think my performances around 2008, 2007, wasn’t at its best. I just wasn’t at the mark at the time,” she said.
“Look, it’s so funny, I think in all of the Australian teams I’ve been selected in, it’s really about selecting yourself. You have a feeling in yourself, you know whether you’re going to make it or not.
“Obviously disappointing but no surprise to me in the end. I think my 2009 and 2010 performance was really good and [it] saw me back in the World Championships team.”
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The West Australian took a two-year retirement from the national team throughout the last decade, spending time away to focus on her family after giving birth to two kids. It gave her the space to ponder the next chapter of her career, she explained.
“I think the break, it really gave me that freshness and I really knew I wanted to be there, it wasn’t just because I was going through the motions of being in the squad year-after-year,” Parry said.
“I really realised it was what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wasn’t ready to [fully] retire.
“I would always follow the girls when they were playing overseas and watch their games and really just wanted to be a part of it again. And I think I came back with a really simple approach, really simple goals and just clarity for my game.”
As well as the two-year break for the benefit of her and her family, the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games also presented itself with an opportunity to regather her thoughts and visions for the coming years and competitions.
“I think for me it was a benefit because I never knew [if] I was going to be selected or not in the final 15,” Parry said.
“It just gave me that extra 12 months to train and really focus on my strength and conditioning and get stronger so I can then perform better. I think I really benefited from the extra 12 moths in the gym and on the training field.
“I think, obviously with my age, it was definitely my final shot at an Olympic selection. I just made sure in my last couple of years of training that I had no regrets and no stone left unturned and really put everything I had into this final preparation and selection. I’m really grateful to be sitting here today as a member of the team.”
Parry, who’s earned 140 caps since making her debut in 2003 as the 227nd player for Australia says that among the entire playing group, there’s always a lot to learn no matter the level of experience.
She takes delight in the fact that she can be a mentor to younger players such as Gabrielle Plain, Bree Trim and Georgia Hood, just as much as she, in turn, can learn from them.
“I think there’s a real give-and-take. I love their passion and their looseness on gameday, and I think from me they might take my maturity and my controlled focus approach,” Parry said.
“I try and loosen up a little cause they’re having so much fun and being so crazy and dancing around and I’m a little more focused.
“But hopefully my mature approach and just my controlled way I see the game, and even my mood as well through the time and attitude is quite ready I think.”
The Aussie Spirit member see softball’s inclusion back into the Olympic Games as a positive for the sport and its wider community country-wide and is thankful to be afforded the chances to compete on the world stage.
“Being back in the Olympics is everything for us,” Parry expressed.
“With being in the Olympics comes the funding and the funding is what we need to pay for our coaches, to pay for our travel for international competition, to get us scholarships at our institute so we can have that strength and conditioning training and the mental prep and the psych, all those services that the institutes provides that are so valuable to us as athletes.
“And without those, we wouldn’t be where we are. Without the Olympics, we don’t have those scholarships and we don’t have those services.
“I really feel for the girls after this, we’re not going to be in our institutes anymore cause we’re not in the next Olympics so there’s going to be an eight-year gap where we lose a lot of our funding and then have to try to build up again.
“It’s really, really disappointing to our sport but hopefully, seeing it back on TV we can increases those grassroots participation levels and we see more people getting out and playing this summer, just having a go so they can enjoy it cause it’s such an enjoyable game.”
Parry insists that the Aussie Spirit is ready to be a strong competitor in Tokyo. They’re the eighth-ranked nation, and have medalled at every Games so far, winning silver in 2004 and a bronze in 1996, 2000 and 2008, still chasing that elusive gold medal.
The second baser says she’s ready to perform at her best. She acknowledges the limited time she feels she has left in the game, but is supported knowing that she has a team around her who are just as dedicated to achieving the same goal. The Spirit know they can deliver for Australian fans back home.
“This is my final time with the Aussie Spirit, so I’m just going to put everything out there and really give it my all and really know that we are representing a whole softball community and we’re really proud to be doing that. We can’t wait.”
The Aussie Spirit begins its 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games campaign against Japan at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on Wednesday 21 July at 10am AEST.
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