Softball aces Abbott, Osterman in for 2021 Olympics

USA Softball doesn't yet know when the national team will play its first Olympic softball game since 2008, but when it does it will take the field with its two most accomplished players.

In the wake of this week's official announcement postponing the Olympics until an undetermined date next year, Team USA pitchers Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman confirmed to ESPN that they intend to continue playing through that tournament.

Abbott, 34, and Osterman, 36, are the only players on the roster originally named to compete in Tokyo this summer who have previous Olympic experience. Osterman won a gold medal in 2004, while both pitchers won silver medals in 2008, the most recent Olympics that included softball and baseball on the program.

"I've been waiting 12 years, so what's another year," Abbott told ESPN. "Obviously, first things first, I don't want to look too far ahead -- I want to stay healthy and make sure my people are healthy. But yes, God willing, I'm planning to compete in 2021. It's a little hiccup right now, it's a little bump in the road."

The national team was until recently traveling around the country on a five-month tour playing exhibition games against mostly college teams. After a series of stops in the Pacific Northwest were canceled in early March, Osterman said it was increasingly clear to her that the Olympics wouldn't proceed as scheduled. She returned home to Texas, where she lives with her husband and step-daughter, and began to discuss whether it was feasible to continue for another year.

"There's been no part of me that didn't want to continue with this journey," said Osterman, who came out of retirement in 2018 to try for a third Olympics. "It was just a matter of making sure [my husband] was OK with it, too. ... There's been no part of this for me, physically or mentally, that has ever hesitated thinking I could do it. But we're not making millions of dollars doing this. You have to make sure you can make ends meet and things can work out the way you want them to."

Both players were uncertain about their immediate training plans, partly because of general uncertainty surrounding the pandemic but also about USA Softball's next steps and the actual dates of the rescheduled Olympics. All Team USA tour dates have been postponed through May 17, but there has been no announcement about the remainder of the tour. In response to the IOC announcement Monday, USA Softball said in regard to the tour that there are "still a lot of moving pieces and discussions to be had before we can determine appropriate next steps."

USA Softball further said Tuesday that it could not clarify whether players would continue receiving monetary stipends during the postponement because those conversations were ongoing "internally and with the USOPC."

Softball would have been particularly hard hit by Olympic cancellation instead of postponement. Along with baseball, the sport was added in 2020 as part of an initiative to allow hosts greater say to include sports popular in that country. In addition to winning the last Olympic gold medal in 2008, Japan also beat the United States to win world championships in 2012 and 2014.

Abbott and Osterman have both previously cited a desire to make good on the disappointment of silver medals in 2008 as factors in returning to international competition. But as one of the sport's most recognizable stars, a longtime standout in the Japanese professional league who returned to Team USA in 2018 after an eight-year hiatus from international play, Abbott also made clear that softball's future motivates her.

"We were preparing to showcase our sport, the speed of softball and the excitement and intensity of our game, in a country that is strong in the sport, Japan being the last Olympic gold medal winners," Abbott said. "It's really important for us to put on a good event so we can continue our fight to be on the Olympic docket on a consistent basis.

"If 2020 had been completely canceled, we would have been left with nothing. We're not in for 2024 [in Paris], and 2028 [in Los Angeles] is a question right now."