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FIRST-TIME EVENT // SOFTBALL

Dates: July 21-30

Venue: Golden Park, Columbus, Ga.

TV sessions: None scheduled.

Daily schedule:

July 21-27 _ Preliminary games.

July 29 _ semifinals.

July 30 _ bronze and gold medal games.

U.S. preliminary schedule:

July 21 _ U.S. vs. Puerto Rico, 9 a.m.

July 22 _ U.S. vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m.

July 23 _ U.S. vs. Japan, 6:30 p.m.

July 24 _ U.S. vs. Taiwan, 9 a.m.

July 25 _ U.S. vs. Canada, 9 p.m.

July 26 _ U.S. vs. Australia, 11:30 a.m.

July 27 _ U.S. vs. China, 6:30 p.m.

FUN FACT: How good is the U.S. team? It has competed in eight world championships and five Pan Am Games and finished out of the medals only once. Its overall record is 125-12 with 97 wins by shutout and a run differential of 643-40. During one stretch, the U.S. team went 110-1.

TERMS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Fastpitch _ throwing from a mound 40 feet away pitchers can reach 70 mph and it looks more like 100 in baseball.

Low scoring _ 85 percent of the game is pitching, and even with only 200-foot deep fences, scores of 1-0 are common.

Nine players _ unlike slowpitch sotball, the Olympic game features nine players in the field.

OLYMPIC HISTORY: It is about to be made. After 30 years of lobbying, softball will be included in the Olympics for the first time.

Predictions:

Gold _ United States

Silver _ China

Bronze _ Australia

Darkhorse _ Japan

_ MARC TOPKIN

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