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AN EXPERT'S VIEW // DON PORTER

Don Porter is executive director of the Amateur Softball Association, president of the International Softball Federation and the man who led the push to get softball into the Olympics. He shared his thoughts on the Olympics with Times staff writer Marc Topkin.

The U.S. Olympic softball team is certainly going to be a prime contender for a medal, hopefully a gold medal. There are seven other teams in the Olympic competition, and having seen and knowing what they've been doing since last August (at a pre-Olympic tournament in Columbus, Ga.), you can be almost assured they'll be much stronger.

Even though the U.S. has a very strong team, you're going to see some other very strong teams. And they're not going to lay down just because the U.S. runs onto the field. Knowing the other teams and what they've been doing in preparation for July 21, the U.S. team is going to have its hands full.

I think the teams that have to be considered as contenders would be China and Australia.

That's not to say the other five teams won't be tough. Japan could be in there, and probably Chinese Taipei. Those are two very strong teams. And that's not to take anything away from Canada, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico. Things can be different in the Olympics. All the teams are coming in and getting focused.

The United States has had the advantage because the game of fast-pitch softball was developed here. We've had the opportunity to develop our athletes and their skills, but everyone else is catching up.

The other teams play the game a lot like the United States does. They haven't had the experience or the time, but they're catching up. They're not that far off. You're going to continue to see the gap, whatever gap there was 5-10 years ago, you're going to continue to see that draw closer.

From the international standpoint this will be great for the sport. Fast-pitch softball is played at a high level of competition in over 100 countries. That was not the case 20 years ago. But now we've had world championships, it's been a successful part of regional games and the Pan Am Games. It's been tested at high international levels. Now it certainly is an international sport.

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