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James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
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Real dream team delivers payback for UA's Candrea

Like a swift slap to the knee with a crowbar, UA/USA softball head coach Mike Candrea got his revenge on an old enemy yesterday in painful way.

Yes, the USA softball team capped its domination of the world in the Olympic gold medal game, whipping its arch-rival Australia again, and Candrea's mind wasn't on payback, but on his team and late wife Sue.

But you already knew that, and every bored, chauvinistic columnist around the country - after trying to figure out why the ball is fluorescent yellow - will talk about that.

The part about the win that will go unnoticed is that Team USA knocked around Tanya Harding. The Americans lit up the Aussie ace for a gold-medal game record and Olympic-game record-tying three home runs.

Tanya - not the figure skater Tonya - is the most infamous member of the UA-UCLA softball rivalry.

Harding joined the Bruins midseason in 1995, pitched UCLA to a win over UA in the championship game and then took her yellow ball and went home. Harding was among three non-soccer playing softball players who got a soccer scholarship and didn't earn a credit, leaving long before finals, only lasting part of a softball season.

While the Bruins - who, since they are on a quarter system instead of semester, were able to perpetrate the ruse - were stripped of the title and put on probation, they were able to compete in the next world series and the Wildcats didn't get the title. While Harding ran off and Candrea never got his shot here, the UA mercy ruled UCLA 10-2 in the next championship game, the schools' first meeting since the NCAA ruling.

The Americans knocked the former ringer, the only pitcher to ever beat the U.S. twice in Olympic play, out after just 2.1 innings. Harding was 4-0 and hadn't allowed a run in 33 innings in Athens.

Score one for the good guys.

If only former Wildcat Jennie Finch had pitched the gold medal game, I bet she wouldn't have given up the pitching staff's run like former Bruin Lisa Fernandez. Right?

Wildcats clean up in the pool at Athens Olympics

While it is a little old by now, the amazing performances by UA swimmers has to be acknowledged once more.

In between NBC's moronic teddy bear montages, U.S. swimming poster girl Amanda Beard won her first individual gold medal in the 200 breaststroke, the event she holds the world record in. She also won a silver in the 200 individual medley - the first time she swam the toughest event in an international meet - finished heartbreakingly fourth in the 100 breaststroke and did her part to win silver in the medley relay.

The most impressive performance, however - and I know full well I will come under surveillance of Bush's secret police for saying this - was the South African world-record-time win over the United States in the 4x100 freestyle relay. The win kept Michael Phelps from tying Mark Spitz and prompted talking heads like the columnist-turned-ESPN commentator Skip Brainless - I mean Bayless - to call his six gold medals and two bronzes a disappointment.

The four-member South African team included former Wildcats Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman and current UA swimmer Lyndon Ferns, and UA associate head coach Rick DeMont is an RSA assistant. DeMont returned to the games after being stripped of a gold in 1972 after unknowingly taking a banned substance in his asthma medication.

Schoeman, who got a silver in the 100-free, losing to Pieter van den Hoogenband, may not get a chance at more gold because of the other dominant color in sports: green.

Schoeman told a South African paper, The Star, he has received little support from the country and if "Uganda were to offer me $2,000 a month to swim for them, then I would have to consider taking it."

A country traditionally slow on the uptake, South Africa needs to get with the "programme" or one of its few champions will disappear.

Did American dominance doom Olympic softball?

Even before its gold medal became official, the USA softball team's dominance caused many to wonder if it had doomed its own sport.

While the men's basketball team solidified its role as the butt of jokes, the softball team gave Americans a real Dream Team. The softball team outscored its "competition" 51-1 in nine games, including beating the world's No.2 team 10-0, 5-0 and 5-1.

The U.S. set more than 10 Olympic records and in a tournament where hitting was supposed to rule with the pitching rubber moved back, its pitching staff had an ERA of 0.12. During one of his visits to UA this year, Candrea told me that this could be the best softball team ever, but now the talk is of whether it is the best Olympic team ever.

After some speculation, softball is safe for the 2008 games but beyond that the future is hazy.

The Olympics is all about joke/fringe/wacky sports, like table tennis, race walking, badminton and women's wrestling - a major disappointment by the way.

Incidentally, how did they in good conscience add sports like trampoline and synchronized diving? I joked that synchronized floor exercises of gymnastics were up next and I was believed, then again they probably will be in the 2008 games.

Whether it be because of a president's policy in the '70s/'80s or because the rest of the world realizes they are just a bunch of losers, American sports as a whole will be quick to go soon.

China has won 16 table tennis gold medals since it was added in 1988 and you better believe that this interesting "sport" is safe.

The United States has won all three golds in softball and has been No. 1 in the world for the last 18 years. With few exceptions, the rest of the world is pathetic on the mini-diamond.

The "Greek" team was pretty much all Americans, and a few teams, including the USA's JV team, scored fewer runs in their Olympic trip than the US did in their 10-0 win over No. 2 Australia. The UA didn't even make its College World Series, but judging by the fact that it only lost 6-1 to the Olympic team, if the games were spread out far enough, they could have won a medal.

Oh well, we could always make kickball an Olympic sport.

James Kelley is a journalism senior and covers football and softball (and everything else) for the Wildcat. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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