TOKYO - At the 2008 Olympics, Kaleigh Rafter was 21 and represented Canada even though she had not yet completed her college softball career. , she thought that she would probably not have the chance to participate in theOlympics longer, because his sport had been excluded from the permanent program.
"I remember telling my roommate: " I won't be 34 on this team ever, "Rafter, a receiver, recalled recently. “It won't be me. I'll be out of the sport by then. '
"And of course, here I am.
Not only is Rafter back for the Olympics, but also his Canadian teammates Lauren Regula, Jenn Salling and Danielle Lawrie. Yukiko Ueno, Eri Yamada and Yukiyo Mine from Japan are too. And then there's Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott from the United States, as well as Australian Stacey Porter. All 10 players are taking part in this tournament more than a decade after competing in the 2008 Games.
"It 'sa bit crazy that 'There are 10, and really cool, "said Porter, 39, an infielder and Australian team captain.
For many Olympians, participating in the Games is the fulfillment of a lifetime. At best, an Olympic career can
Life can go on. And for many players of softball they did. They went to school, they played professionally, they worked as coaches, they started businesses, they got married, they had children, they coped to injuries and other challenges and several have retired.
But the 10 2008 veterans who returned this summer have also continued t heriterating national teams. This made their return a testament to their talent and dedication to a sport that was once unwanted by the Olympics. Image Kaleigh Rafter, right, is one of four 2008 Olympians on the Canadian list. Credit ... Jorge Silva / Reuters
"This just shows that you don 't have to quit this game in your twenties or early in his thirties, ”said Osterman, 38. “You can continue to play and you can continue to be successful. No one blinks when the men do it, so the women show that we can keep playing too. "
would not have been in this position without a close vote by the International Olympic Committee in 2005 which removed sport from the program of the London 2012 Games. The the reviews at the time were that softball - and its Olympic men's Olympic baseball equivalent - weren't global enough.
When word of the IOC vote reached Osterman, she Called it a "blind fist ".
"I thought 2008 was going to be everything for me " said Regula, now 39. “And I remember thinking this was going to be a blow to softball. There are so many softball players who will never be able to - back then it was like never before since we didn 't know.we didn't see if it would come back - to be able to have the opportunities that we had.
Above all, Regula feared that young girls no longer aspire to play softball or dream of the Olympics. Image Eri Yamada with her Japanese teammates before the opening of the Tokyo Games. Credit .. . Yuichi Masuda / Images
Two years after Ueno, the ace from Japan, led his country Upset the United States for the gold medal in 2008, Osterman and Abbott, two of the most decorated pitchers in the world, withdrew from the United States national team. With no Olympics in sight, they focused on their professional careers. playe in the United States tes and Abbott also performed in Japan, and both supplemented their earnings with college coaching, clinics or motivational lectures.
In 2015, still unsure of the return of Olympic softball, Osterman pulled away from the pitcher altogether. She was, she said, ready to "settle in, get married and have a life.
Regula and Lawrie also retired after the 2008 Olympics for family reasons. Lawrie, now 34, left Team Canada in 2012 and professional softball in 2014 in order to be able to give birth to her daughter. She said she was "really happy " to be retired, and without Salling and Rafter, two pillars of the Canadian program, she would not have sacrificed time away from her family to join them. in 2018.
Image Lauren Regula, now 39, pitcher at the Beijing Games. Credit ... Clive Rose / Images
Regula retired after the Beijing Olympics because she had married the previous year, wanted to found her family (as of 2009 she had three children in three years) and soon owned a gym with her husband. She did not regain a ball until 2016, when she represented the Canada at the Women's Softball World Championship. Tokyo Olympics ›
Even though she knew Olympic softball was back in 2020, Regula was busy juggling her family and business and retired again. The itch returned in 2019 when she worked as a broadcaster and worked at the tournament in which Canada qualified for the Tokyo Games.
She was back on the mound on next year and named to the roster in May, a comeback sparked by watching her teammates play as they got older. "I didn't even think I was in this position right now " she said.
From the Japan team, Mine retired briefly in 2015, but returned when softball 's Olympic return was announced in the yearnext e. (Mine, Ueno and Yamada were not available for interviews before the Olympics as they were busy getting ready, a team official said.)
Summer Olympics Essentials
Over the years, Osterman has said that she and Abbott, 35, didn't necessarily miss the Olympics because they were playing at a high professional level . She felt bitterness in 2012 in the face of exclusion. Abbott said it was hard to watch the Olympics after giving up softball, and he felt the effort to get it restored were endless.
"There was definitely some kind of disappointment when the Olympics was going to be held, and people were excited, and you couldn't go," said it. “Not necessarily for me, but that softball wasn't there. We didn 't have this opportunity. " Image Japan's Yukiko Ueno started the opening game of the Tokyo Olympics, 13 years after throwing in Beijing. Credit ... Jorge Silva / Reuters figcaption >
After the 2008 Olympics, the Women's Softball World Cup went from all four tons at two years. Coupled with the Pan Am Games and other international competitions, the events have only helped satisfy some of the players 'competitive cravings.
"This tastes a bit like an Oreo when you know it's not the real Oreo, ”Rafter said of those other tournaments. “Nothing will ever be the Olympics. The Olympic medal is very different from a world championship medal, even though it has become what we were playing for.
Even after softball's return to the Tokyo Games was confirmed, Osterman didn 't jump at the chance to return. She said she was glad to be retired, but her former US softball teammates Kelly Kretschman and Abbott kept pestering her to reconsider.
While players like L awrie had serious doubts about theMaintaining the Olympics after the coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 Games, Osterman did not. She had done so much to reach this point, including coming out of retirement and resigning her assistant coaching position at Texas State University to focus on training.
“ No part of me wanted to go back, ”she said.
During the Olympic softball break, many players said that the quality of the international game has improved as more players have developed in the US academic and professional ranks. The United States and Japan, however, remain the world powers. Image Jenn Salling from Canada pushed her career back to'coach to re-commit to playing. Credit ... Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
But the return of these Games seems bittersweet. Softball will not be at the 2024 Games in Paris because baseball and softball are not popular in France. However, both sports are expected to return in Los Angeles in 2028.
Both Osterman and Abbott have said that if they were at the Olympics then, this might be as coaches, not players.
Asked in a recent video chat if they would continue until then, the four Team Canada veterans Laughter. What is seven years after already waiting 13? “I don't know if I can rationalize putting life back to 41,” Rafter said. section.>