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Michele Granger remembers how the prospect of playing in the

March 15, 1995

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina (AP) _ Michele Granger remembers how the prospect of playing in the Olympics was an incentive for her a decade ago. Dot Richardson has felt the same way for twice as long.

Finally, the American softball stars are within reach of that lofty goal, and it has kept both of them going in their sport.

Next year, at Atlanta, women’s softball will make its Olympic debut. The U.S. team, which has won 94 straight international games, will be a strong favorite to take the gold, just as it is at the Pan American Games right now.

The Americans beat Puerto Rico 6-0 Tuesday as Granger pitched a one-hitter.

``The reason I continue to play is the Olympics,″ said Granger, one of the most unhittable pitchers the game has seen. ``After I graduated from school (California, 1993), I planned to stop playing and get a job. I was married and ready to start doing something else.

``But the announcement that softball was finally in had an impact on me. So I’ve continued to play, which is a big commitment for a pitcher, because you have to pitch daily.″

Granger barely could believe the news that the International Olympic Committee accepted her sport into the games. She starred in world championships, national championships, Olympic Festivals and Pan Am Games _ at Indianapolis in 1987, she threw a no-hitter and three-one hitters, and she is the NCAA Division I career strikeout leader. But the Olympics is something entirely different.

``I was skeptical at first. For years, we were told, `Yes, softball would get in,′ only to have the rug pulled out from under us. But when it was definite, it was a commitment I had to make.″

At 25, Granger has yet to establish any career guidelines outside of softball. Richardson, 33, is in the midst of a residency internship through the University of Southern California, and plans to become an orthopedic surgeon.

She, too, is willing to put her ``real world″ on hold, however, for a shot at Olympic glory.

``I thought I’d be all done in the sport by now,″ said the 13-time All-America shortstop and winner of two world championships and two Pan Am Games gold medals. ``I was contemplating what to do when the announcement came that it really happened and the Olympics accepted softball.

``They have been very understanding at Southern Cal, backing me 100 percent and giving me a year off, from July 1 through the Olympics.

``I’ve been playing major softball since I was 13, and I heard about it being in the Olympics since I was 15. In 1976, I was on the protected list of the Connecticut Falcons to play in the professional league, but I didn’t want to go professional because at that time they were talking about the Olympics. And that was 20 years ago.″

Granger, Richardson and the other American players are greatly responsible for softball getting what little publicity it receives. The U.S. women grab headlines in the multisports events simply by being so overpowering.

But they need a larger stage, and they hope the Olympics can do for them what it did for volleyball in 1984 and has done through the years for figure skating.

``Getting in the Olympics is the big break, no doubt,″ Richardson said. ``The stadium in Columbus (Ga.) seats 8,000, and they can only get it up to about 10,000, and I guarantee it will be packed.

``The women perform at a level that is fast-paced, exciting and fun to watch. We’re not as powerful or as fast as the men, but in the dimensions of our sport, women have shown they are not that much different from men.″

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