TWO HOURS into USA
Softball's Olympic afterlife, not yet midnight last Thursday inside the China
Lounge, teammates sat next to a Zen rock pond. No music, no party, just the
mood of reflection for the Goodbye Girls. As catcher Stacey Nuveman touched her
silver medallion—and talked of processing a jarring 3--1 loss to Japan in the
gold medal game—a roar burst from the stadium next door.
The U.S. women's
soccer team had just won gold by edging Brazil. They were world-beaters, free
to plot a future for London 2012. Lucky them. But it's over for Olympic
softball after a 2005 vote by the International Olympic Committee dumped the
sport, as well as baseball, for the next Games. In a thin voice, pitcher Jennie
Finch explained, "One of the hardest parts is the unknown."
Some U.S. players
will move on—maybe to coach or to play in a pro league—but internationally the
sport will likely wither as Olympic funding dries up. USA Softball will not be
immune from the pinch. The USOC will bundle softball into its Pan American
Games budget, lumping the sport with its bowling team. For 2008 the USOC
allotted $1.06 million for softball as an Olympic entry. The Pan Am funding for
each sport is $100,000.
demise isn't sealed, though. The IOC will vote in October 2009 on whether to
reinstate the sport for 2016. There is also a long-shot chance it could be
restored for 2012 if, and only if, a "yes" vote for 2016 is a
landslide. London Olympic Organising Committee chair Sebastian Coe could don a
progressive's legacy if he would logistically accommodate the ladies. First,
though, the IOC would have to bend its rules by creating a mechanism to include
the additional athletes.
would make amends for the botched vote in '05, when some IOC members mistook
softball for an extension of steroid-tainted baseball. You'd think the sport
would be an IOC pet: It attracts SUVs full of girls to the field, and its
players don't fail doping tests.
nothing wrong," says centerfielder Laura Berg, who has played on every U.S.
Olympic team. Any anger toward the IOC is muted by the fact that the players
need those same members for resuscitation. "What they did by eliminating
us, it affects every young girl I meet," says outfielder Jessica Mendoza.
"But I believe in my heart that the [IOC] members are good people who'll
make the right decision."
The fear of
another "no" vote made Beijing's Fengtai Stadium, the softball venue, a
tempting time capsule. As they stepped off the medal stand, players from Japan,
the U.S. and Australia—in gold, silver and bronze, respectively—wanted to leave
something on the infield to remind everyone: Olympic softball lived here. Some
retiring players, including Berg, laid their cleats at home plate for closure.
Mendoza wanted to leave a statement of hope. She grabbed a Japanese translator
and pointed to buckets of softballs.
"You want to
throw them?" the interpreter asked.
"I want to
write something with them," Mendoza replied.
rivals, bonded as displaced Olympians, were arranging softballs to form a
number: 2016. The message to the IOC? Vote "yes."