If America’s women can win in Beijing, they will have claimed gold at every Games since softball became an Olympic sport. Introduced at Atlanta in 1996, softball – played only by women at Olympic level – is one of two sports the International Olympic Committee has voted to eliminate from the Games after 2008.
Team USA took the honors in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, and go into the Beijing competition as strong favorites.
Only Japan can be considered serious rivals – the Japanese stunned the US with a 5-2 victory in the recent Japan Cup.
Despite that hiccup, the US regrouped to defeat the Japanese in the final of the competition.
All eight teams taking part in the Beijing softball finals have already qualified.
The US and Japan are joined by Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Venezuela and the hosts, China.
The Beijing Games may well be the last time we see softball played on the Olympic stage. The IOC decision to drop the sport, alongside close relative baseball, came shortly after it was announced the 2012 Games would be held in London, dashing hopes for the British players to participate as the host team.