Haylie McCleney and the members of Team USA softball have already been waiting several years to compete in the Olympic Games.
Twelve to be exact.
So one more year of waiting is nothing for them.
The 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has also canceled seasons in all pro, collegiate and most high school athletics across the country.
“Most athletes have been waiting four years for the Olympics, we’ve been waiting 12,” said McCleney, an outfielder for Team USA and a three-time All-American at Alabama from 2013-16. “Now we’ll push it to 13.”
Softball, which had been an Olympic sport since 1996, was cut from the list of sports after the 2008 Games. USA lost to Japan in the gold-medal game with former Alabama star Kelly Kretschman part of the roster.
In 2016 the International Olympic Committee voted to reinstate softball (and baseball) for 2020.
“For our sport it hurt a little bit harder,” McCleney said of the cancellation of the 2020 Games. “For most (of the athletes) their journey started in 2016, ours started in 2008. I got on the team in 2014 and during that time we just played because it was an awesome feeling to wear USA across your chest and wear the red, white and blue. Once we knew the Games were back in Tokyo we began to fight to get back in. In 2018 when we were able to qualify that was another step in that process.”
The process is on hold and when the Games will be is still undetermined. For now, McCleney and the rest of the team have to train on their own due to social distancing precautions.
“I think it’s been tough on everyone,” she said. “It’s not easy. I’m used to training at some of the premier facilities in the world. Now I’m in the same boat as most other people; I’m having to make use of the equipment that I have. I’m going on outdoor runs just like my dad does at home in Morris (Alabama). It’s opened my mind to the creative process of training and making the most of what you’ve got.”
McCleney is sad for the Olympic delay but she was crushed by the news collegiate spring sports were called off. Her thoughts turned immediately to Alabama’s seniors.
“I can’t imagine all that and going through it,” McCleney said. “My heart goes out to them. Softball is one of those sports that is so special to that community there. I know they are all hurting.”
All seven of Alabama’s seniors want to return, according to head coach Patrick Murphy, for 2021 if they are granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA. That decision should come Monday.
“I know that if you are giving coach Murphy this much time to prepare, the 2021 Alabama softball team is going to look pretty good,” McCleney said.
McCleney was supposed to be in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday as Team USA and the Crimson Tide were scheduled to play an exhibition game at Rhoads Stadium. The coronavirus spoiled those plans.
McCleney said she’s not certain when the Summer Games will be in 2021 but she and the rest of Team USA will be working on their own and staying in shape until the pandemic is over. Then the ultimate prize will be the focus.
“All 18 of us on the national team are committed to still playing in 2021 and getting better throughout this whole process,” McCleney said. “We will come out on the other side of this better and our goal is still the same – win gold.”
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