BEIJING -- The team that was too good for its own good returns for the final hurrah, an overwhelming favorite to win the fourth and, for now, last, Olympic softball gold medal.
This is the blessing and the curse of the American softball team, which turns everybody else into the Washington Generals.
"Nobody deserves to get kicked out because they dominate," said
In retrospect, maybe B-plus would have been good enough four years ago. After the ode to their Grecian burn that made American softball the toast of the Games in Athens -- SI put the players on the cover and pronounced them "The Real Dream Team" -- the IOC confirmed in 2005 that softball, along with baseball, would be off the program for London in 2012, reducing the number of sports from 28 to 26. Softball, along with six other sports, including golf, is petitioning to be back on the schedule in 2016.
The Americans didn't help themselves in Athens when they were basically helping themselves, setting 18 team records, including runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, batting average and slugging percentage, while outscoring opponents 51-1. (The only run allowed was in the sixth inning of the gold-medal game against Australia, a 5-1 win. Said a smiling Berg, "Whenever I get to talk to a school, I'm always asked, 'Why did you give up the run?' We have something to improve on in 2008.") Apparently perfection, or at least near perfection, can be harmful to your future. As catcher
But American softball, 24-4 in Olympic competition, has a more profound problem than
The IOC and MLB are at loggerheads. Unlike the National Hockey League, which since 1998 has interrupted its seasons to accommodate the Olympics for roughly a fortnight, Commissioner
But the IOC might be even less enchanted than baseball about the expiring partnership, which allows players not on MLB 25-man rosters to participate in Beijing. The depth and breadth of the steroid scandal -- the Mitchell Report just scratched the surface -- and the tardy acceptance of more comprehensive drug testing by MLB has irked the IOC, which does not need the aggravation of more dirty athletes sullying the youth-of-the-world happy talk it continues to peddle. Rogge welcomes the youth of the world every four years, not
When Rogge announced softball was done, he cited a lack of universality, even though its 126 national federations exceeded the number for such staples as field hockey, sailing and rowing. IOC vice president
Nuveman best expressed the well-rehearsed position of USA softball at a press conference Saturday -- "Softball's over for now, but not over for good" -- and her teammates stayed on message better than
"We're doing our part on and off the field," Bustos said. "(But) we can't make the decision for the people in those rooms. What we can do is help educate them on what our sport is about. In the long run, that's what it going to comes down to. We're not going to fix it by playing. We're not (even) going to fix it by doing clinics in every country in the world. But we can say to the people in those rooms, this is what the sport can do in your country.
"(Why they made the decision) is something I don't know. I don't really get into the politics. I'm an athlete. I play the game and that's it. Do I watch the news? No. Do I want to see what's going on in the world? No."
The American players trotted out all the hoary stuff about the competitive gap closing --