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Olympic Softball Set To Begin in Athens

The opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games are set for Friday, and it doesn't take long for softball to take center stage. Olympic softball competition begins on Saturday with two medal contenders, Japan and Australia, squaring off at 2:30 a.m. Eastern time.


Team USA opens play and defense of its back-to-back gold medals at Noon local time (5 a.m. ET). The American contingent will face Italy.Other day one games include Chinese Taipei challenging Canada and host nation Greece facing China.

Over 120 nations sponsor softball, only eight will be represented at the Olympic games. The top four teams from the 2002 ISF World Championships qualified for the Games, along with winners from three qualifying tournaments (Asia/Ocenia, Americas and Africa/Europe). Greece received an automatic bid for being the host country.

These games mark the third time that softball has been on the Olympic programme. The United States has won both Gold medals, with Australia taking both Bronze medals. China took the Silver in 1996 while Japan finished second in 2000.

There will be several major rule changes implemented for these Olympic Games. The pitching distance has moved back to 43 feet (from 40 feet). Outfield fences have been moved back to 220 feet (from 200 feet). 

For the first time in Olympic competition, a yellow optic, red-stitch ball will be used rather than a white cover, white-stitched ball. In a move to shorten games, the international tiebreaker rule will take effect at the top of the eighth inning (instead of the 10th inning).

Although it is not a rule change, there will be a visible clock that will enforce the rule that a pitcher has 20 seconds to release the next pitch after receiving the ball. Implementing a physical clock assists the umpires in their enforcement of this rule. The batters are also required to shorten their time in seeking signals from the coaches.

A look at the eight countries that will compete in the Olympic Games:

Australia
- Making its third Olympic appearance (1996: Bronze, 2000: Bronze)
- Qualified by winning the Asia/Ocenia qualifier tournament.
- 12-6 All-Time in Olympic competition, including a 2-1 mark against the United States.
Visit Australia Softball On the Web

Canada
- Making its third Olympic appearance (1996: fifth place, 2000: eighth place)
- Qualified by winning the Americas qualifier tournament.
- 4-10 All-Time in Olympic competition, including an 0-2 mark against the United States.
Visit Canada Softball On the Web

China
- Making its third Olympic appearance (1996: Silver, 2000: fourth place)
- Qualified by finishing fourth at 2002 ISF World Championships.
- 11-7 All-Time in Olympic competition, including a 1-4 mark against the United States.

Chinese Taipei
- Making its second Olympic appearance (1996: sixth place)
- Qualified by finishing third at 2002 ISF World Championships.
- 2-5 All-Time in Olympic competition, including an 0-1 mark against the United States.

Greece
- Making its Olympic debut.
- Host Country
Visit Greek Softball On the Web

Italy
- Making its second Olympic appearance (2000: fifth place)
- Qualified by winning the African/European qualifier tournament.
- 2-5 All-Time in Olympic competition, including an 0-1 mark against the United States.
Visit Italy Softball On the Web

Japan
- Making its third Olympic appearance (1996: fourth place, 2000: Silver)
- Qualified by finishing second at the 2002 ISF World Championships.
- 13-4 All-Time in Olympic competition, including a 1-2 mark against the United States.
Visit Japan Softball On the Web

United States
- Making its third Olympic appearance (1996: Gold, 2000: Gold)
- Qualified by winning the 2002 ISF World Championships.
- 15-4 All-Time in Olympic competition.
Visit USA Softball On the Web

Other nations that have competed in past Olympics: Cuba (2000), Netherlands (1996), New Zealand(2000), Puerto Rico (1996).