Softball makes its return to the Olympic program after a 13-year absence and will be the first sport to get underway at Tokyo 2020. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.
Softball makes its long-awaited return to the structure of the Olympic landscape after last appearing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sport begins the Olympic coverage in Tokyo – the first time a sport other than football has opened the Games – with the first match scheduled two days before the Opening Ceremony.
Softball was officially added back into the Olympic program at an International Olympic Committee meeting in 2016 where it was confirmed the sport would be reinstated for 2020. Assisted by a push from Japan, a nation known for a high level of and support for softball, this will be the fifth time the sport has appeared at the Olympics – making its debut at Atlanta 1996.
The United States is the most decorated softball team at the Olympics, achieving a gold medal in the first three years of competition, each against different opponents. However, Japan currently holds the title of defending champions, beating the United States in 2008.
In softball, two teams of nine players compete against each other on offence (batting) and defence (fielding), stretching a regulation game of seven innings each. Each side attempts to score more runs than the other by reaching home plate safely where the team with the most runs at the end of seven innings wins, otherwise, a tie-breaker is declared through subsequent innings, until a winner is declared.
In defence, the side of nine players is positioned at various intervals around the field, in both the infield and the outfield. The pitcher begins in the middle of the infield and performs an underarm motion to pitch the ball towards the batter and catcher. The innings is complete when the defensive side retires three offensive players, through a variety of methods.
The purpose of the offense is to score runs by making contact with their bat and the pitched ball, and safely making each base around the infield until they reach home plate, in which case a run is added to their score. A hit over the outfield fence and within fair territory warrants a home run.
The competitors at Tokyo 2020
Softball will feature six teams in Tokyo, down from eight teams that had featured in the four Olympiads the sport has appeared at so far. Of the six nations, four have appeared at all of the previous Games, while Mexico makes its Olympic softball debut this year.
Hosting nation Japan is the defending Olympic champions, having beaten three-time gold medallists the United States 3-1 in the final game of the 2008 Games in Beijing. With its entry into 2020, it is the fifth time Japan has participated at the Games.
The world number two ranked softball nation in the world have participated in each Olympic Games where softball has featured and after finishing fourth in 1996 at Atlanta, have medalled in the every Games since – silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and gold in 2008.
World number one, the United States were the first team to qualify for the 2020 Olympics as a result of winning a tournament – celebrating victory at the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship.
The United States has appeared at every Olympics and is a three-time gold medal-winning side from 1996 to 2004. The United States fell short in 2008 but is also one of two teams – the other being Australia – to medal at each Olympic Games.
Italy is the lowest-ranked team heading into Tokyo 2020 at ninth, but the team stamped its ticket to the Olympic Games after going through the July 2019 Africa/Europe Qualifier undefeated in six games.
This year’s Olympic Games will mark the third time Italy has featured at the event – Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 the other occasions. Italy is a nine-time gold medal-winning European Championship side and the reigning champions from 2019.
Mexico is making its Olympic softball debut at Tokyo, with the world number five-nation confirming its spot through the Americas Qualifying Event.
The side went undefeated through 10 games in the regular and super rounds to qualify, the feat seeing the team awarded the Premio Nacional de Deportes (National Sports Award) in their home country.
Canada was the second team to qualify for Tokyo from the Americas Qualifying Event, going undefeated in the regular rounds and then losing one game in the super round – to fellow Olympic competitors Mexico. The world number three, Canada has appeared at every Games so far but has never medalled – its best effort, a fourth-place finish in 2008.
Canada is a seven-time World Cup of Softball medallist and a four-time Women’s Softball World Cup medallist, claiming bronze in three of the last five tournaments.
The final team to qualify for Tokyo, Australia went through the Asia/Oceania Qualifying Event undefeated across six games.
The number eight ranked nation in the world, Australia is one of two teams – along with the United States – to medal at all four Olympic Games; its best effort a silver medal in Athens in 2004.
More Tokyo 2020 News:
With competition starting two days earlier than the Opening Ceremony, softball will be the showpiece event before anything else.
Hosts Japan and Australia will meet for the first game of softball at Tokyo 2020, commemorating the sport’s return in a standalone fixture on July 21. The two nations have a long history at the Olympic Games, playing each other eight times – two times at each Games, split four apiece, including twice in a bronze medal match in 2004 and 2008.
After each team has played against each other once, the top four teams advance to the medal games. The top two nations in the final standings will contest for a gold medal while the third and fourth-placed sides will battle for bronze.
Australia’s chances for its maiden gold medal
Having been in Japan since the start of June, setting up camp with a 23-athlete group in Ota City, Australia has been hard at work preparing for its best chance at a medal finish, namely the only one it’s missing – gold.
The Aussie Spirit hasn’t played competitively together since February 2020 at the Australia Pacific Cup, an event hosted in Sydney, designed to have acted as a precursor to the Olympics which was originally scheduled to begin a few months later.
During the last month, the Spirit have competed against the Japanese national team as well as some Japan Super League sides in order to get back into the competitive play again and understand and analyse their opponents. Their preparations and willingness to be the first international team in Japan ahead of the Olympics speaks to their hunger to work towards the only medal that alludes to them.
Australia will be lead by its captain, the only Olympian in the squad, Stacey Porter. She was involved in the silver in Athens and bronze in Beijing so certainly has the knowledge of what it takes to finish on the podium.
Australian Softball Team
|Stacey Porter||3rd (2004, 2008)|
Softball begins on 21 July at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium with Japan hosting Australia. Games will also be played at Yokohama Baseball Stadium, including the two medal matches on 27 July.
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