From the Camden Advertiser:
Fifth and final installment in a series by Australia’s Mark Long:
Mark Long is a former Australian softballer who pitched Australia’s first World Championship U/19 Gold medal win in 1997. He created and now manages Australia’s leading high school based health program Eat It Work It Move It.
July 2010 – A year ago this week, Australia was competing at the International Softball Federation’s 12th Men’s World Championship.
Coming off the back of their first ever medal, a bronze at the previous event in 2004, the team was gaining momentum in their pursuit of international glory.
Meticulous planning and significant personal financial contributions by those involved appeared to be paying off as the event progressed.
Far from a forgone conclusion, Aussie tenacity would eventually topple the three-time defending world champions, the New Zealand Black Sox, in front of a jam packed stadium in Canada to win gold.
Here, in the first of five articles, is an outsider’s view of the program’s evolution that provides a sharp, yet clear view of why the fairytale story of the Aussie Steelers can translate into reversing the current trend of the game.
July 2009 – Why the ISF decided to stretch the traditional quadrennial cycle that has been in place since 1968, (the first event was held in 1966), to five years has been a confounding thought since that announcement.
Midway through the 12th ISF World Championship in Saskatoon Canada, the jostling of countries for positions in the playoffs continues to take place.
Amongst the top tier of teams is Australia, a nation whose identity and often psyche is linked to the successes of its high profile sporting teams.
Funnily enough and despite their success, the men’s and women’s national softball teams aren’t even remotely considered to be a major sport in the land of the green and gold.
In fact, this week is probably the biggest softball week in the last five years with both senior national teams playing in international events – the men in Saskatoon and the women in Oklahoma for the US World Cup – but still not a single mention of either team in the national press.
Like all things in sport the success of the Aussie Steelers has been a cyclic process but the arrival of the team at Bob Van Impe Stadium also marked an historic point of reflection for those with a keen eye for the history of the “other team” from Down Under.
In 1988, Saskatoon was the host and Australia lined up as the newest addition to the ISF men’s family.
Peter Meredith was hurling the USA to their last gold medal in ISF play and Canada and New Zealand made up the top three.
The powerful and explosive version of the game was still only in its infancy in Australia after the inaugural national championship in 1984.
The trailblazing team set out with high hopes but from all written reports at the time, realistic expectations, the final placing of 7th was a more than acceptable initial foray into the world’s highest calibre event.
Last week, the latest group of Aussies arrived once more in Saskatoon. The team has changed somewhat.
Of course, a completely different roster, a name change from the Australian Open men’s softball team to the Aussie Steelers but expectations within the group have been set to the top shelf.
The inside operations of any elite sporting team are essentially a mystery to anyone on the outside, but the recent experience and success at ISC events by the team’s leading players, means the Steelers are hardly an unknown quantity and a top three finish the presumed minimum expectation, and like all of the top teams, a position in the gold medal game the desired destination this weekend.
The last 21 years have seen a roller coaster ride of results for the Steelers from 7th in 1988, 5th in Manilla 1992, back to 7th in Midland, Michigan in 96 and the rock bottom 12th place disaster in 2000 when the event touched down in South Africa.
2004 in Christchurch was the first ever medal performance with a highly celebrated bronze medal.
In the background to this success are the accomplishments of the junior men’s team now known as the Aussie Colts.
The team debuted at the 1993 event in Auckland after national championships started for youth boys in 1989.
In 1997 the team won the world title and have maintained their world number one ranking with subsequent wins in 2001, 2005 and 2008.
This weekend, Australia will show whether the return to Saskatoon will be the homecoming for a program that has evolved from a capable competitor to a contender that is not only respected but this week expected to be back on the podium and quietly edging their way to the final showdown at the worlds most prestigious event.
Australia took the gold medal with a 5-0 win over their Kiwi neighbours.
Host team, Canada finished with the Bronze and former medallists, Japan and the USA finished outside of the top three.