'We're going to put on a show': Canadian women's softball team ready for Tokyo Games
VANCOUVER -- Canada’s women's softball team is ready to hit it out of the ballpark at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.
It’s been a long wait for Canada’s softball team – 13 years since the sport was last included in the Olympics – but the wait is now over as the club prepares to take to the field next month in Tokyo.
Infielder Jennifer Salling wore the maple leaf back in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, along with teammates Danielle Lawrie, Kaleigh Rafter and Lauren Regula. That experienced lineup has Salling confident that her team is ready.
“Hands down this team is world class…to me we have everything in place to be a championship level team, AKA a gold medal team," Salling told CTV News.
The 33-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C., had a decorated college career at the University of Washington, where she won a national championship. Now, she’s leading Canada’s team on the world stage.
“It makes me smile just to think about our group. This group of human beings is the best group I’ve ever been around in my entire life and I can absolutely say one of our biggest competitive advantages at this Olympic Games is going to be our culture and how connected and united we are as a squad," she said.
In 2019, at the Softball Americas qualifier, Canada booked their ticket to Tokyo with a 7-0 thumping over Brazil.
After the Games were cancelled due to the pandemic, the team spent an entire year training and living together on the road. Border restrictions in Canada forced the team to play down south this year, where they play under the name “the Canadian Wild."
Canada’s roster is now set, including 26-year-old pitcher Sara Groenewegen.
“A lot of people say I'm a gamer and I’ll do anything to win," Groenewegen told CTV News.
Groenewegen, who grew up in Surrey, joined the team in 2013 and has been a staple on the mound for Canada ever since.
“This past year has been crazy for everyone. I know a lot of us have made a lot of sacrifices, it hasn’t been normal to train, but I think our team has done a really good job in terms of preparing as best as we can.”
It was in 2018 that Groenewegen faced a health scare that forced her out of the game.
“I got diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease," Groenewegen said “So, I had to be put on a bunch of machines and meds just to keep me alive and once they were able to figure out what the bacteria was in my lungs, they were able to fix it.”
Amazingly, not long after she was back pitching, and she's now fully recovered and ready to represent her country in Tokyo.
As the countdown to what will be an unforgettable Games draws near, Salling says the athletes have been prepped on COVID-19 protocols from the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“I wouldn’t choose to do this if I didn’t feel safe… there is no better place to have an Olympics in a pandemic than Japan, their attention to detail, discipline, their thoroughness in how they go about their business is world class,” Salling said
For now, the Paris 2024 Olympic Committee has voted against having softball included in the 2024 Games.
“I’m retiring at the end of July and I think one of my goals is just, I don’t want our sport to die," said Salling. "We can continue to showcase our sport, show how beautiful it is, how fast it is and how unique and athletic it is."
Canada’s coach Mark Smith says the team's "commitment to excellence and (willingness) to go the extra mile and put the time that is required to be the best they can be is second to none.”
Right now, the USA and Japan will be the biggest obstacles in their way of competing for a gold medal at the Games.
“I think Canada’s playing with a chip on our shoulder. We’ve never medaled in softball and I think we have a few players from that 2008 team who feel they got cheated from their experience and so this team is looking better than ever,” Greoenwegen said.
It’s been a long road for the Canada’s women's softball team and now it’s time for them to step up to the plate.
“When we get there, it’s just trust all the work, trust all the hay that’s been put in the barn and I truly believe we’re going to put on a show and make history for our country, and specifically for Softball Canada,” said Salling