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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June 2004, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
USA's winning run
Dorothy Richardson celebrates victory in 2000
The USA are the team to beat
Softball was born when baseball players decided to play their sport out of season and took it indoors towards the end of the 19th century.

Slight changes were made and the game has evolved into one of the most popular world-wide sports.

Softball's international federation estimates there are more than 50 million registered players around the world.

It is rare in the sporting sphere in that men and women can compete on the same side in any of the game's three forms - fast-pitch, slow-pitch and 16-inch slow-pitch.

With women unable to take part in the Olympic baseball competition, softball was introduced at the 1996 games in Atlanta in its fast-pitch guise despite never having been played as a demonstration sport.

Cynics suggested it was simply to guarantee the USA yet another gold medal and they have not been disappointed.

The USA have won both gold medals on offer, beating China on home soil in 1996 and Japan four years ago.

But the competition has proved a success with both the paying public and viewers because the matches have invariably been played with great intensity, as was seen in Sydney when the USA were forced to work hard for victory.

DID YOU KNOW?
Softball is the only international sport with its headquarters in the USA
Japan ended the USA's 112-game winning streak in the round robin stage, the first of three defeats in the preliminary round.

However, the pre-tournament favourites bounced back to beat the previously undefeated Japanese in the final with a winning run in the final innings.

However, despite the drama of that performance the sport faces being scrapped from the list of Olympic disciplines before the Beijing Games in 2008.

MEDAL TABLE (since 1996)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
USA 2 0 0 2
China 0 1 0 1
Japan 0 1 0 1
Australia 0 0 2 2





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