Softball kicks off the official start of the XXXII Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan on July 22, 2020 at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium. Team Italy (ranked #9) earned a well-deserved berth to Tokyo after a 5-0 shutout over Great Britain (ranked #12) in the WBSC Women’s Softball Europe/Africa Qualification Final in Utrecht, the Netherlands on July 27, 2019. Current Team Italy manager Enrico Obletter was the pitching coach during the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when the Italians rallied for a respectable fifth-place finish behind USA, Japan, Australia, and China. Ironically, the entire coaching staff was let go six months later. After Team Italy flopped in the 2004 Athens games behind USA, Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Chinese Taipei, and Greece, Enrico Obletter was rehired as the pitching coach from 2005-2006. Shortly thereafter, another coaching staff change created a ten-year absence from the Italian National Softball Team for Enrico Obletter. He was rightfully awarded the Team Italy managerial role in 2017, and he has never looked back since achieving great success for the Azzurre softball squad.
Having taken Team Italy to the Olympics nearly two decades ago, Enrico Obletter knows Tokyo 2020 will be both extra special and extra tough. He said, “This time the Olympics are quite different as there are only six teams. The games will be played on artificial turf, and the hype leading up to these games is huge in the softball world. This is due in part to the fact that the Olympics are being held in a country that absolutely loves softball, draws huge crowds, and always produces a very good team. In addition, all the nations around the world have been preparing for more than 10 years for this event since the last time softball was included in the Olympics was in 2008.”
The Team Italy manager summed up the competition in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Enrico Obletter said, “Japan (ranked #2) is the host team and is the reigning Olympic Champion, having won in the last Olympic Softball competition in Beijing in 2008. Since then, they have won various world championships. Although they lost last year's world championship final against USA in an epic battle, Japan is the team to beat.
USA (ranked #1) has an excellent team as they are the current world champions and will be seeking to regain the Olympic title. USA last won in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. USA will be tough to beat, but sometimes having so many players to choose from results in a disadvantage by often leaving out great players because of a selection system that many feel is biased.
Mexico (ranked #5) is USA's "second" team since all the players were born in the US with some Mexican background to qualify for a Mexican passport. Mexico is comprised of many pro players and excellent former D1 college players. They won their qualifier in Surrey, British Columbia after beating Canada, who has been on the podium for the last two world championships. This says a lot about Mexico as they will be a huge problem for all teams in Tokyo.
Canada (ranked #3), and Australia (ranked #7), third and fourth respectively at the world championships, are well-oiled teams. They have been together for a long time with world-class athletes like Stacey Porter for Australia and Jenn Salling for Canada. Both players were Olympians in 2004 and 2008.”
In regards to Team Italy’s chances, manager Enrico Obletter was quick to point out many shortcomings. He conceded. “We have not participated in enough international tournaments in comparison to the other top teams of the world getting the opportunity to play against each other three or four times a year. When we are lucky, we get to play against them once. For example, we have not played against Team USA since 2014. If you don’t play against the best, you cannot get better.”
Despite the uphill battle Team Italy faces in the upcoming Olympics, Italian skipper Enrico Obletter knows his squad is made of true grit and will not give up easily without a fight. He concluded, “We have our work cut out for us. We fear no one and greatly respect all of these great teams. We have never beaten Japan, USA, Canada, or Mexico before; however, there is always a first time… “ Forza #Italia!
by Roberto Angotti