It’s been 11 years since USF and U.S. national softball coach Ken Eriksen last stepped foot on an Olympic field as a coach. Last time, he walked off after a 5-1 gold-medal victory over Canada in 2004.
Shortly after the 2008 games, softball vanished from Olympic competition.
Recently, however, talks between Tokyo — the host of the 2020 Olympic games — and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been heating up, making the sport’s blurred outlook a bit more clear.
According to a New York Times report, host cities are allowed to propose one or more sports for their country to be added to the 28 already on the bill under the Olympic Agenda 2020 program implemented in December.
In this case, Tokyo took advantage of the program, nominating five sports for 2020. These include baseball, softball, karate, sport climbing and skateboarding and surfing.
“It’s a great endorsement to the IOC to have (the Tokyo Olympic Committee) approve those sports,” Eriksen said Tuesday. “The IOC takes those advisements very, very strongly.”
The request was submitted to the IOC and a decision will be made for the 2020 games in July, but Eriksen has his eyes set on the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, where the fate of softball’s future rests in the hands of the IOC.
“We want to not only be in the 2020 games, but 2024, ’28, ’32 and so on,” Eriksen said. “Everything is looking positive for inclusion in 2020 — we just need that signature on paper.”
Although Eriksen is more confident than ever that softball will make its return to the Olympics, it doesn’t come without some reservations.
“We think it’s going to happen, but we’ve had the rugs pulled out from under our feet so many times before, that nobody wants to say, ‘Yeah, we’re definitely in,’”Eriksen said.
Eriksen, who was named coach of Team USA in 2011, was an assistant with the team during its gold medal run in 2004. It was during this run, Eriksen said, that softball and baseball reached their peak.
“Baseball and softball had gained tremendous popularity,” he said. “The TV ratings for softball in 2004 were off the charts, and the venues were packed.”
It was this popularity that made Eriksen yearn for its Olympic return.
“For the sport itself, it would be unbelievable,” Eriksen said. “Once we get the rubber stamp on that, then we’re back with the five rings.”