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USF softball coach Ken Eriksen grateful as gold-medal quest begins

The Bulls’ 1,000-game winner leads Team USA into its Olympics opener tonight in Tokyo.
Team USA softball coach Ken Eriksen and his squad begin Olympic play tonight against Italy.
Team USA softball coach Ken Eriksen and his squad begin Olympic play tonight against Italy. [ Times ]
Published Jul. 20

The sun was setting Tuesday evening — Japan time — when Ken Eriksen received the texted query from the other side of the world.

Now that it finally had arrived, the belated culmination to a sparkling career of international competition, what kind of emotions was Eriksen feeling?

His response conveyed enormous pride and peace of mind.

“I’m seriously at ease, more so than most would think,” said Eriksen, the 60-year-old USF softball coach who leads Team USA into its Olympic opener tonight against Italy (11 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network). “The hay is in the barn. It’s going to be fun to watch them play.”

Related: The greatest victory of Ken Eriksen's career a matter of life and death

More than two years after formally being named coach of the Olympic team, and 16 months after the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, the Bulls’ 1,000-game winner at last can see the summit of his career after a journey rife with obstacles.

It included softball being removed from the Olympic program following the 2008 Games in Beijing, only to be re-inserted three summers ago. Then, roughly 10 months after being named Team USA coach, Eriksen and his players looked on helplessly as the global pandemic forced the 2020 Olympics’ postponement and jeopardized the Tokyo Games altogether.

“This group of women has stayed together and has become closer during this chaotic last year,” Eriksen, an assistant on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that won gold, said via text.

“It wasn’t just COVID, it wasn’t just the uncertainty of playing in the Olympics, but it was also during the tenuous social movements that gripped our country along with women finding a voice to speak out against injustices. The ‘Stand Beside Her Tour’ (in early 2020) was the beginning of this group’s maturation into the team that our nation should be proud of.”

On Tuesday, that team boarded a bullet train for Fukushima, where feel-like temperatures climbed to 105 degrees.

Their contemplative coach was no longer sweating it.

“At my age, at this point, I have been lucky to have enough context to understand the beauty of competition is in its preparation and simplicity,” Eriksen said.

“I’m just lucky to be able to finish my 34-year USA (softball) career with this group.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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