TOKYO, July 21 (Xinhua) -- Defending champion and host country Japan is striving to clinch its second softball Olympic gold medal, as the sport is reinstated to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
It is the first time that softball and baseball have returned to the Games since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but will be dropped again for the following 2024 Games in Paris.
Softball/baseball is one of the five sports added to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, as well as skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing and karate.
Softball, a sister game descended from baseball, was first introduced to the Olympics in 1996 at the Atlanta Games, but was voted out from both 2012 and 2016 Games along with baseball.
Host country Japan, also defending champion, has won one gold, one silver and one bronze during the past four Olympics which featured softball.
13 years ago in Beijing, Japan beat defending champions the USA 3-1, who had won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Before losing to Japan, the USA was on a winning streak and had been unbeaten in 22 Olympic contests.
A strong rivalry is expected between Japan and the USA at the Tokyo Games. The USA's highly rated Monica Abbott will seek to bring her team a fourth gold, while Japan's Yukiko Ueno, recognized as one of the world's fastest pitchers, will aim to help Japan record a second consecutive win.
Across all four previous Olympic Games featuring softball, only four teams have won a medal. In addition to the USA and Japan, China claimed a silver in Atlanta at 1996, and Australia snatched three bronzes respectively in 1996, 2000 and 2008, along with one silver in Athens in 2004.
A total of six teams, namely Japan, the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico, will be competing in the Olympic softball tournament from July 21 to July 27.