For thousands of sports stars around the world, the uncertainty of the pandemic has left their Olympic dreams up in the air, with the fate of the Tokyo Games still unclear less than 200 days from when they are supposed to begin.
- COVID-19 forced the postponement of the Tokyo Games last March
- The continuing crisis means there is still no date for the event
- Baseball will not feature at the Paris Olympics in 2024
But for the Australian baseball team, the doubt is particularly tough, with a once-in-24-year opportunity hanging in the balance.
Tokyo loomed as Australia’s first chance to play in an Olympic baseball tournament since snaring a silver medal in 2004, falling heartbreakingly short of the gold at Athens in a narrow loss to Cuba.
And with baseball excluded from the program for Paris 2024, Tokyo was also the only Olympic chance a whole generation of Australian players was ever going to get.
For the players who do not know whether they will get that chance, the uncertainty is challenging.
“So many unknowns, not only with the Australian Baseball League (ABL) season but the Olympic qualifiers as well and the Olympics itself,” Perth-based pitcher Daniel Schmidt said.
“It is really difficult with the uncertainty but you have just got to keep plodding along … and when you get the call to compete, be ready to go.”
Tokyo still not guaranteed
Even before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Australia’s Olympic baseball ambitions were up in the air.
Australia’s spot in the small six-team tournament is far from guaranteed. The team still needs to qualify and would be up against some of the strongest baseball nations in the world to do so.
But the Australians were backing themselves to make it — and still are, so long as coronavirus does not get in the way.
“We know we have got the talent down here in Australia to be able to do it and we want to show that on the world stage,” Schmidt said.
“We are really making strides in the right direction which is why we want this opportunity for the Olympics to go ahead to show what we can do.
“We have been working our butts off to get ready to go.”
That final qualifying tournament had been due last April, but was shelved because of the pandemic.
Now where, when and even if that will go ahead remains unclear.
Even amid all of that uncertainty though, the Olympic dream is still driving Australia’s baseball stars.
The chance to compete against the world’s best
Alex Hall, a 21-year-old catcher with the Perth Heat, is hoping to produce a strong ABL campaign to boost his chances of being part of the national team if the Olympics go ahead.
“Competing against the best of the best would mean a lot for me and my family,” he said.
“To play my sport at the Olympics and put on a show for Australia, hopefully come away with something … for me, it would mean everything.”
Infielder Robbie Glendinning, who plays professionally in the minor league system of the Pittsburgh Pirates and also for Perth in the local league, is an established star of the Australian side.
For the 25-year-old, the prospect of getting to compete for an Olympic medal would be a dream.
“It is one thing on my bucket list, I want to experience an Olympics and I want to play at the highest level,” Glendinning said.
“That is where the best athletes in the world are and it would be awesome to be part of it.
“But some things we just can’t control.”
Softball facing similar uncertainty
The predicament faced by Australia’s best baseballers is somewhat uncommon, given athletes in many sports had a shot in recent Olympics and could again have a chance in 2024.
But they are not alone, either.
Australia’s softball team has already qualified for Tokyo, which will include the first Olympic softball competition since 2008.
If the Games go ahead, Australia would be seen as a strong softball medal contender.
But if they do not, the Olympic aspirations of much of the Australian team will vanish — with softball also excluded from Paris 2024 and not due to return until Los Angeles 2028.
But both the softball and baseball teams can only sit and watch as Olympic organisers try to navigate a global health crisis to find a way for the Games to go ahead.
For those whose dreams are on the line, it is an incredibly anxious wait.
“To be able to go and play in the Olympics would just be the icing on the cake for the rest of my career,” Schmidt said.
“Fingers crossed everything can go ahead.”