DENVER (AP) – U.S. softball star Jessica Mendoza is lobbying for one more comeback, rallying her sport to return for the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Instead of a rally cap, the outfielder is showing off the shiny gold medal she won in Athens and the silver from Beijing as she works the crowd in Denver this week at SportAccord. The gathering of sports industry leaders includes senior international Olympic officials who will ultimately decide softball’s fate.

Also in the running for inclusion in 2016 are baseball, golf, rugby sevens, roller speedskating, squash and karate. The IOC will choose a maximum of two new sports when it meets in October in Copenhagen, Denmark.

These are anxious times for athletes hoping to get in – or back – to the Olympics.

“It’s like climbing a mountain,” squash player Natalie Grainger said. “But it’s the pinnacle of everything, so I guess it should be hard.”

Softball and baseball took their last swings for at least eight years at the Beijing Olympics after IOC members voted in 2005 to exclude the sports for the 2012 London Games. The decision hit Mendoza hard.

“It was like someone punched me in the stomach,” she said. “I remember losing my breath. When softball is that much a part of your heart and who you are, and they say it’s no longer in the Olympics, it feels like a part of you has died.”

Softball is going on its own on this campaign, rejecting a proposal from baseball.

for a joint bid to get reinstated.

“We feel we have the foresight of what’s best for our sport,” said Don Porter, president of the International Softball Federation. “Baseball has their problems, we have ours. What we want to do is make sure our direction is best for our sport.”

Harvey Schiller is keeping a low profile at the convention, listening to IOC members rather than plead his sport’s case.

Schiller, the president of the International Baseball Federation, has learned that prudence and patience can go a long way.

“There’s a point where they’re probably tired of seeing you, and you have to be a little careful,” Schiller said. “We’re just here to continue to show the flag and talk about the sport … I think one of the things you have to be careful about is not to overexpose yourself.”

Schiller remains confident baseball can be reinstated, especially given the host cities up for consideration all are baseball enthusiasts.

His staff has even designed four miniature booklets outlining reasons “why baseball is a hit” in each potential host city. In the Chicago brochure, for instance, there’s a photo of President Barack Obama wearing a White Sox jersey and throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

“You’ve got four countries that have four cities that want baseball,” Schiller said. “They want baseball.”

So does Ted Turner.

“We need to get baseball back in the Olympics,” the media mogul said during a discussion at the convention Thursday. “The Olympics without baseball is like spring without summer. … It’s the one thing the Cubans and the Americans both watch.”

Rugby sevens, squash, golf, karate and roller sports were each considered for inclusion in the 2005 vote but none met the required two-thirds majority. Since then, the system has been changed to require only a simple majority for addition of new sports.

“This is competition. All seven of us are in competition,” Porter said. “Speaking for softball, we’ve got to go in our own direction, as to what we think will work best to give us an opportunity to regain Olympic status.”

The U.S. softball team may have been too good for its own good, winning three straight Olympic gold medals heading into the Beijing Games. There, an uncompetitive sport turned competitive – the Americans were stunned by Japan in the final.

To Mendoza, that was proof the world is catching up.

“Everyone says losing the gold medal game helped our cause, showing the U.S. isn’t dominant,” Mendoza said. “It was really frustrating to hear that. The sport is global, we aren’t dominant.”

Even if the U.S. was still ruling international competition, Mendoza wonders why that would be such a bad thing.

“You look at a Michael Phelps, is anyone telling him, ‘You know, you’re really too dominant. You’re winning way too many medals,”‘ Mendoza said. “That’s what really hurt me. The Olympics is about domination. It’s about giving 5 million percent.”

Squash turned to one of its most decorated players to lobby for the sport, bringing in Jahangir Khan. So dominant was Khan that he won 555 straight matches at one point in his career.

He’s the Michael Jordan of the sport and still can’t go anywhere in England or Pakistan without being mobbed by fans.

“The fact I still go to squash functions and still get recognized, it’s pretty amazing,” said Khan, a six-time World Open winner. “But I wish I would’ve had a chance to play for a medal. I never had that chance.”



OLYMPIC SPIRIT: Caught up in Olympic zeal, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter believes Denver is ready to bid on the 2018 Winter Olympics should Chicago fail to land the 2016 Summer Games.

“If Chicago’s not the city for 2016, then I think we’d make a very competitive bid for 2018, for the Winter Olympics,” Ritter said in an interview on KUSA-TV in Denver.

U.S. Olympic Committee officials, however, have consistently said they have no intention of bidding on the 2018 Games.

“All of our attention is focused on Chicago and supporting its bid,” spokesman Darryl Seibel said.

Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Games only to have voters reject them later over costs.


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