By James Crook

Legendary softball star Jennie Finch has backed the WBSC campaign to get the bat-and-ball sports back into the OlympicsSeptember 5 - America's Jennie Finch, one of the most successful players in the history of the sport, has become the latest advocate of the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) campaign to get the bat-and-ball sports back on the Olympic sports programme.

Described by Time magazine as the biggest name in the history of softball, Finch has often been hailed as a revolutionary of the sport, famed for her professionalism, ability and marketability.

The Chicago Bandits and Team USA pitcher retired from the sport in 2010 to concentrate on her family life, but the legacy she left behind for the sport has certainly not gone unnoticed.

"She set the standard for softball in a new era of being able to be feminine and play this sport," said her United States team-mate Jessica Mendoza.

"Not that you have to be feminine to play this sport, but I see hundreds of thousands of little girls now with glitter headbands, hot pink bats, makeup- when I was growing up, it wasn't like that."

California-born Finch represented the University of Arizona from 1999 to 2002, and amassed an incredible 60-game winning streak which spanned almost two seasons with her team - which still stands as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record - and was named All-American pitcher and first baseman on three occasions, also receiving the Honda Sports Award, given to the nation's outstanding collegiate softball player, on two occasions.

Finch won Olympic gold at Athens 2004 as part of the USA team that won their third consecutive Olympic softball titleFinch won Olympic gold at Athens 2004 as part of the USA team that won their third consecutive Olympic softball title

This early success translated to a call-up to the USA team for the Olympic Games at Athens 2004 at the age of 23, where she helped her nation to continue their 100 per cent record of gold medals in the sport at the Olympics, conceding just one hit and one walk in her eight innings, striking out thirteen batters along the way.

"To have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics and wear your country across your chest.. that was pretty special," she told insidethegames.

"We also saw how far we had come as a sport and there was a celebration of women's sport at the 2004 Olympic Games with the US women's soccer, basketball and softball teams all winning gold."

But just one year on from the proudest moment of her glittering career in the game, softball - along with baseball - controversially lost its place on the Olympic sports programme, meaning that Beijing 2008 would be the last scheduled Olympic softball tournament.

The final Olympic softball gold medal was in fact the first not to go to the US, as Finch and her team-mates had to settle for silver after being stunned in the gold medal match by a Japanese team featuring superstar pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who has been involved in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC)'s Play Ball 2020 campaign to get baseball and softball back on the Olympic programme.

"There was more emotion," she said.

"Obviously we came up short and it was devastating to have come that far and lost.

"But it was testament to our game and not only how far we had come as US softball players but also softball players from around the world, and Japan came in and had an incredible Olympics."

Elation turned to despair four year's later when the USA were defeated in the final scheduled Olympic softball game by Japan at Beijing 2008Elation turned to despair four year's later when the USA were defeated in the final scheduled Olympic softball game by Japan at Beijing 2008

To see the sport removed from the Olympics after America's international dominance on the sport was finally broken and other nations began to up the ante in attempts to dethrone the US was tough, Finch admitted, as it was an indicator of how the sport was expanding on a global scale with the platform of the Olympics.

"I think we were global sports at that point in 2004 and 2008, and it [being removed from the Olympic programme] was hard, especially as a female athlete," she said.

"You had finally seen our sport grow all over the world and in countries that didn't have softball 16 years ago and now they're competing for medals.

"I do think our sports are global, we see it every single day all over the world, but I think we need to be back where we belong and to see these countries get the funding they need to continue.

"We do need to be back in the Olympics, and I do think we belong there.

Yukiko Ueno (top) led her Japan team to break the American stranglehold on the Olympic softball title in 2008Pitcher Yukiko Ueno (top) led the Japanese team that broke the American stranglehold on the Olympic softball title for the first in 2008

"Both baseball and softball are global sports, there's over 65 million participants in them all over the world, but I do feel that putting us back in the Olympics would allow us to compete on the world stage once again, and that would mean so much for baseball and softball.

"We're seeing athletes from all over the world come in and play college softball and get their education paid for, and there's the dream of playing for your country, and in the professional leagues all over the world.

"When you're a big sport you get the funding and the support from your country, and when we were dropped, that funding was reduced a lot, and that has hurt our sport tremendously in so many ways.

"So many young girls' dreams that were once there have been taken away.

"And as I got older, that dream became a reality when softball was put into the Olympics in 1996,

"We proved that we belong as far as the rankings and ratings that you are judged on in the Olympic Games- we were rarely in the bottom half of all of these things that you're rated on."

Baseball and softball have both previously made attempts for reinstatement to the Games separately, but the bat-and-ball sports are now working together in a revolutionary attempt to get themselves back on the Olympic programme.

The WBSC was inaugurated in Tokyo this April, and since making the shortlist of three Olympic sports in with a chance of being included in the Games from 2020- along with wrestling and squash- back in May, momentum has been building behind the Play Ball 2020 campaign, and Finch believes that softball's brother sport has added tremendous value to the bid for re-inclusion.

"I think it's great," she said.

"The shorter six-day competition will hopefully get the world's best players from baseball to play from the Major Leagues, and we can share a venue now where in the past we were in two separate venues, which I think is a major highlight and improvement.

"And there's the popularity of baseball, which should and could only help us in softball,

"It's obviously been established for a longer period of time and the success of the Major Leagues and the World Baseball Classic prove that there is a place for it."

Finch is adamant that she will be involved in Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games should baseball and softball regain their spot on the Olympic programmeFinch is adamant that she will be involved in Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games should baseball and softball regain a place on the Olympic programme

As WBSC officials spearhead the PlayBall 2020 campaign at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires looking to gain vital votes to win the race for inclusion to the Games, where they will discover their fate on Sunday (September 8), Finch also opened the door for a role in the USteam should they gain re-election to the programme.

"I would love to be involved in some way, shape or form," she said, mirroring the views of Japanese captain Yukiko, who also confirmed her wish to be involved in the 2020 Games if softball is on the programme to insidethegames at the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma this summer. 

"I don't think I would be playing, but I look forward to the future and a bright new start for our sport.

"I would love to be involved in any which way I could, and I plan to be involved if so.

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