Olympics would ‘bring life to the sport again’

Canadian softball players focus on Surrey-hosted world championships, but Tokyo 2020 decision looms.

When it comes to softball’s potential re-introduction into the Summer Olympics, Canadian national team veteran Jenn Salling and her teammates have so far subscribed to a simple philosophy – don’t think about it.

Not yet, anyhow.

Salling admits it can be tough, in idle moments, to keep one’s mind from wandering to visions of Olympic medals, but until the sport, along with baseball, is voted back into the Games – a vote expected in August – then it’s best to simply focus on the task at hand, which is next month’s Women’s World Softball Championships, set for July 15-24 in South Surrey.

“We’ve talked about it a few times as a team, but it’s not overly discussed just because it hasn’t happened yet,” the veteran shortstop told Peace Arch News last week from just outside of Los Angeles, where the team was training prior to leaving for an exhibition tour of Japan.

“We do a really good job as a group of staying in the moment, and trying to be where your feet are. If we look that far ahead down the road, we’re going to lose sight of where we’re really headed, and right now that’s the world championships.”

Softball and baseball were voted off the Olympic roster in 2005, and last played at the 2008 Games in Beijing. After being largely off the radar since, the two partner sports have been thrust back into the spotlight as Tokyo – where the two sports are extremely popular – gets set to host the 2020 event.

While an official vote won’t be held until August, the World Baseball Softball Confederation announced June 1 that the International Olympic Committee supported the WBSC’s bid to include the two diamond sports.

“The WBSC… reconfirms our deepest gratitude to (the) Tokyo 2020 leadership for placing its trust in our sport,” said WBSC president Riccardo Fraccari in a news release. “Olympic baseball and softball in Japan would be the biggest and most exciting international competition in the history of our sport.”

And though she’s trying hard to focus on this summer, that’s not to suggest that the 28-year-old Port Coquitlam native isn’t excited about the possibilities of an Olympic return.

As one of just four current members of the national team to have played at the 2008 Olympics – Jen Yee, Lauren Bay-Regula and Kaleigh Rafter are the others – she knows the experience would be an invaluable one for both her teammates and opposing players alike.

“It’d be absolutely amazing for the sport of softball. It will have been 12 years since it was in the Olympics, and as happy as I am for us veterans, I think I’m more excited for the younger ones who could have the opportunity to experience it for the first time,” said Salling, who took a four-year break from the national team in order to play in a U.S.-based pro league, but returned to the international fold last summer.

“For a lot of them, they probably thought this wasn’t even a possibility anymore. It brings life to the sport again.”

At 28 years old – and turning 29 in July – Salling would certainly still be on the national team radar four years from now, but said it’s hard to predict what might happen between now and then. In addition to training with the Canadian squad, Salling is also a graduate assistant manager with the University of Washington’s softball team.

“I’m definitely not ruling the Olympics out, that’s for sure. At 28/29, that’s kind of when females tend to typically peak in their careers, so that gives me hope,” she laughed.

“But it depends on life, and opportunities that come up. My goal is to be an (NCAA) Div. 1 softball coach, and that life can be really demanding and very rigorous. But if the opportunity is there for me, and it works out, absolutely I’d want to do it.”

If she does get the opportunity to play in another Olympic Games, Salling said she’ll be able to appreciate the moment moreso than she did eight years ago.

“It’s hard to believe that in 2008 I was 20 years old. I was 20 years old and at the Olympics – it’s crazy,” she said. “Looking back, I remember bits and pieces, absolutely, but it went by so quickly.

“Now, I wouldn’t say I’m mature or a know-it-all by any means, but turning 29 in July, it’s going to give me a whole new perspective.”

In the meantime, Salling will focus her energy and enthusiasm on the world championships, and another chance to play at the sport’s highest level in front of family and friends. Her family – parents and grandparents among them – will be watching every game from the left-field bleachers at Softball City, she said.

“They’ll be out there, doing their thing,” she laughed.

And while the Olympics will continue to linger in the background through the summer, Salling said world championships is all her team is focused on at present.

“Right now, at this moment, we know the biggest stage we can play on is world championships, so you own that and embrace it.

“The Olympics might come in, and we’ll focus on that when we know. In the meantime, we’ll just continue to have high hopes.”

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