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64OLYMPIC REVIEWSPORTSPROFILES

For latest news go to www.baseball.ch or www.olympic.orgOLYMPIC REVIEW65Alongside the absence ofdefending champions theUSA, the emergence of a new baseball nation made as much impact as Cubawinning a third gold medal.Having triumphed inBarcelona in 1992 andAtlanta in 1996, the Cubans were beaten in thefinal in Sydney by the USA but they regained theirgold medal in Athens with a 6-2 victory againstAustralia, the surprisefinalists. Australia hadstunned Japan by beating them 1-0 in thesemi-finals but after losing inSydney, when they had ayoung and inexperiencedinternational team, Cubaboasted the arrival of theirnew talent such as secondbaseman Yulieski Gourriel.Graeme Lloyd, theAustralian pitcher who haswon two World Series withthe New York Yankees,complimented the success ofthe champions. "I keep hearing about the old Cuban team," he said. "These guys came away with a gold medal, sothey're not too bad either. "They mightnot be as strong as they werein the olden days, but theywere strong enough for thiscompetition."Japan beat Canada 11-2to win the bronze.Baseball will make its fifth appearance as amedal sport in Beijing. There are various theoriesas to how the sport evolved, with the roots of themodern game in North America but itsdevelopment very much paralleled English sportssuch as cricket and rounders.In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a novelwritten in 1798, the author writes about childrenplaying "base-ball" on an village green inEngland, but the essence of the game's imagetoday emerged from 1903 when the first WorldSeries was staged between the best teams inthe United States. The professional game in the U.S. datesback to 1869 and has long been thought of asthe country's national sport. After being ademonstration event at the Stockholm Games in1912, baseball returned in 1936, 1956, 1964,1984 and 1988 before its debut as a medalsport in Barcelona in 1992.Left: Japan's Shinichi Sato hits out during the1992 Barcelona GamesFORMATOver a year out from Beijing, and almost half ofthe teams who will compete in baseball havealready qualified. With eight places available,three have been secured: China, as the hostcountry, and the USA and Cuba, whoprogressed after the American Olympicqualifying event in Havana. The USA had failedto reach the Athens Games in 2004 but itbecame the first sport where they guaranteedtheir participation for 2008.The five remaining countries will come fromthe winners of the European Championships inBarcelona in September, the Asian BaseballChampionships which end in December andthree from an Olympic qualifying tournamentfour months before the start of the Games nextyear. Mexico, Canada, Australia and South Africa are four of the eight teams who havealready qualified to take part in this Olympicqualifying tournament.At the Games, each team meets the other seven once before the top four advance tothe semi-finals. National Olympic Committeesare allowed to select a 24-man squad for the competition.VENUEThe baseball competition will be staged at theWukesong Cultural and Sports Centre, one of thenine temporary competition arenas. It is locatedto the west of the city, 18km from the OlympicVillage at the Olympic Green.The complex will have a seating capacity of15,000 in an arena which has two competitionpitches and a training field. The construction ofthe venue has ben planned in accordance withthe theme of these "Green Games", with the useof solar energy concepts and a rain-waterrecycling system. A baseball test event will takeplace from 18-23 August 2007.Below: An artist's impression of how theWukesong Centre will lookCONTENDERSThe USA are determined to re-establishthemselves at the Olympic Games after thedisappointment of not being in Athens in2004 and they have made an earlyimpression. In Havana inSeptember last year, in frontof 40,000 spectators, theybeat Cuba 8-5 in the final ofthe Americas Olympicqualifying tournament.Even though the final was only meant todecide the winner of the event, because bothhad qualified for Beijing by reaching thatstage, the USA struck a psychological blowagainst the defending Olympic champions andworld champions after Cuba's success at thelatter event in Holland in 2005.Chinese Taipei won gold at the AsianGames in Doha last December with a team including the experience of Chang Tai-Shan, who participated at the Games inAthens. They will be among the favourites forthe Asian Championships, which start inNovember, when the prize is a place in Beijing.Above and below: Chinese Tapei won theAsian Games in Doha last December andshould be contenders in BeijingATHENSREVIEWBASEBALL