It's finally here. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Softball Competition starts today in China which is actually yesterday in the US since they're 12 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in the US. This year's Olympic Softball competition will be a very exciting one as it could very well be the last one. The decision regarding softball's future in the Olympic Games will be made in October of 2009, but until then, we have 8 outstanding teams in this year's Olympic Softball Competition which could prove to be the most wide-open one yet.
Quick, Can you name the 8 teams in this year's Olympic Softball Competition? Most of us can name the USA, Japan, China, Australia and Canada but who are the other 3 teams? Here's a look at each of the 8 teams, how well they've done in past Olympics and how they qualified for these Olympics:
|How They Qualified||Finish at 2006 Women's
|USA||'96 - Gold
'00 - Gold
'04 - Gold
|1st at '06 World Championships||1st|
|China||'96 - Silver
'00 - 4th
'04 - 4th
|Australia||'96 - Bronze
'00 - Bronze
'04 - Silver
|3rd at '06 World Championships||3rd|
|Japan||'96 - 4th
'00 - Silver
'04 - Bronze
|2nd at '06 World Championships||2nd|
|Netherlands||'96 - 7th||Won the Europe/Africa Olympic Qualifier (beat Italy)||12th|
|'00 - 6th
'04 - 6th
|Won the Asia/Oceania Olympic Qualifier (beat New Zealand)||8th|
|Canada||'96 - 5th
'00 - 8th
'04 - 5th
|5th at '06 World Championships (beating out Italy in playoff game)||5th|
|Venezuela||First Olympic Games||Won the America's Olympic Qualifier (beat Puerto Rico)||7th|
The game schedule is a round-robin format where all 8 teams play each other, followed by the top 4 teams moving into the Medal Round. The Round-Robin schedule is as follows:
|Tuesday, August 12||Chinese Taipei vs Canada
USA vs Venezuela
China vs Netherlands
Japan vs Australia
|Wednesday, August 13||China vs. Venezuela
USA vs. Australia
Japan vs. Chinese Taipei
Canada vs. Netherlands
|Thursday, August 14||China vs. Australia
Canada vs USA
Netherlands vs Japan
Chinese Taipei vs. Venezuela
|Friday, August 15||China vs. Canada
USA vs. Japan
Australia vs. Chinese Taipei
Venezuela vs. Netherlands
|Saturday, August 16||Japan vs. China
USA vs. Chinese Taipei
Netherlands vs. Australia
Venezuela vs. Canada
|Sunday, August 17||Chinese Taipei vs. China
Japan vs. Venezuela
Australia vs. Canada
USA vs. Netherlands
|Monday, August 18||Netherlands vs. Chinese Taipei
China vs. USA
Canada vs. Japan
Venezuela vs. Australia
|Tuesday, August 19||OFF DAY|
|Wednesday, August 20||Medal Round - Semi Finals|
|Thursday, August 21||Gold Medal Game|
While you're watching the Olympic Softball competition here are some things to pay close attention to so you can watch the Games within the Games:
- Make the Top 4 - since only the Top 4 teams advance from the Round Robin into the Medal Round, teams will be playing to make the top 4. This means they won't be playing to beat the overwhelming favorite USA team in the round robin stage but instead going all out to beat those teams they feel they can beat.
- Keeping Something Back - Teams like Japan and Australia will no doubt hold a little something back when they play the US and each other as they both expect to get into the medal round. As a result they don't want to show their opponents everything they've got early in the competition so they'll hold a little back for the medal rounds, without sacrificing the ability to make the medal rounds.
- Hey Ump - One part of the Olympic Softball competition that always makes it tough is the umpiring. The umps are selected from all over the world and don't have the chance on a daily basis to see the level of competition and speed of play that they will see during the Games. As a result, you're going to often see umpires out of position or slightly late for a call. They're doing their very best, as are all the competitors, it's just that a majority of the umpires don't see the quality of competition back in their home countries that they will see during the Olympics. Also - because an umpire is not allowed to umpire a game where their own country is competing you won't see the US umpires in any of the US games - something that really makes it tough since they're among the best umpires in the world.
- Say What?! - language is always a tricky and cumbersome issue in any Olympics and while each country understands it's own language, it becomes a real challenge when a coach from one country goes out to discuss a call with an umpire from another country. When this happens look for a 3rd person to accompany the coach out on the field - that person will be the interpreter who will help translate for both parties. While it sure makes arguing a little difficult the good news is that the translation delay helps the coach calm down a little more than might otherwise happen.
- Hold it Right There - While most of the playing rules will be the same ones you're used to playing with back home there is one big difference - and that's the 2 second pause the pitcher must make before pitching the ball. It's a big change for the US pitchers as it's a really long pause for a pitcher, and one that all 3 of the US pitchers have really been practicing a lot in preparation for these Games.
- Wild Cards - Canada is a hugely improved team and if they play well they have their best shot in years for a medal. Venezuela has some talent and could be the team that does some damage if anyone overlooks them. Australia really has the talent and experience but the age of their pitching staff makes them a question mark.
- Local Flavor - While there's only one US team in the competition there is plenty of US influence at play in many of the other teams; Australia - many of their players played their college softball at US colleges, Holland (Netherlands) - a few of their players have played college ball in the US and they are coached by Head Coach Liz Kelly (former Head Coach at UC Santa Barbara) and Asst. Coach Linda Wells (former Head Coach at ASU), Venezuela - sent many of their players to play college ball in the US years ago and is the biggest reason they're in the Olympics for the first time, Canada - many of their players have or are currently playing college ball in the US along with their Head Coach, Lori Sipple (the Assistant Coach at University of Nebraska).
- Keys - USA is the odds-on favorite but there are a few areas of concern that might hurt them: (a) they are only carrying 3 pitchers instead of the usual 5 so watch for the heat & humidity to possibly get to them (b) their middle infield can struggle with various defensive coverages so watch for teams to run on them. JAPAN is great at defense and the short game along with having the fastest pitcher in the Olympic Competition Ueno Yukiko who has been mastering her changeup. But they're weak at the long ball so if they get behind by a lot it's tough for them to play catch-up. Ueno has struggled with injury but if she is healthy and pitching extremely well the Japanese could be very, very tough. CHINA is a solid team that can play really well one minute and then fall apart the next. Watch for the crowd to help them as their early schedule will help them get their nerves out. Their pitching and team inconsistency is probably their weakness. AUSTRALIA is the most US-like team in the competition meaning they have power, speed, experience, good defense and good pitching. Their biggest weakness is simply the age of their excellent pitching staff as 3 of their 4 pitchers average 37 years old. But, if their bats and gloves can keep them in the game their experience could really be a big plus.
- Oldies but Goodies - There are some special players in this year's softball competition that are enjoying some amazing Olympic moments; Venezuela - has the oldest player in the softball competition; a 41 year old catcher, Cirimele Heredia Zuleyma, 3 players are playing in their 4th Olympic Softball Competition; Laura Berg (USA) is going for her 4th Gold Medal, Melanie Roche and Tanya Harding are both from Australia and both going for their 4th Olympic Medal.
To help keep track of all the game results, stats and overall schedule check out this link to Beijing 2008 Softball Schedule & Results