Due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that it’s postponing the Olympics for a year. That decision impacts the summer plans for thousands of the world’s top athletes — including former Texas softball star Cat Osterman, who was set to play for Team USA in Tokyo.
Osterman, 36, won a gold medal in the 2004 Games and then silver in 2008. After stepping away from competitive softball in 2015, Osterman announced her comeback in October 2018. She was one of four pitchers who made the cut on Team USA’s 15-player roster.
On Tuesday, only a couple of hours after the IOC’s announcement, Osterman spoke by phone with the American-Statesman. Did the IOC essentially send her back into retirement? Hardly, she said in a wide-ranging interview:
I assume that you are home (in New Braunfels). Were you home when things started to get bad or did you need to rush home?
We were actually on tour (with Team USA). … They basically met with us and said they were suspending tour — if you can get a red-eye out tonight, get a red-eye out. Otherwise, first thing in the morning, head home. So on the 11th is actually when we booked it. We got home, I got on a red-eye. I got home Thursday morning on the 12th at like 10:30 in the morning and I’ve been home since.
We were in the middle of tour and everyone was starting to take precautions. Obviously by that point, South by Southwest had been canceled. Some other big things had been postponed or canceled. I think the final straw was the NBA postponing their season.
As someone who was going to compete in Tokyo, what are your overall thoughts?
Personally, I was expecting it.
The more you looked at everything being shut down, not just in our country but other countries as well, that with the virus going on and people being in lockdown and countries being shut down so to speak, you’re really inhibiting athletes’ training performance. I’m not putting training above health. Obviously, the health and safety of everyone with coronavirus is absolutely important.
But when you think about the Olympics specifically, I think the whole goal is a world competition where everybody can be the best of the best. You expect everyone to be in elite mode at the point and time. With everything going on right now, there’s just athletes that can’t be. They cannot be in their best version of their athletic self to compete in this event, that’s what this is about.
I was expecting it and I think it’s nice to finally have an answer. I know a lot of people want to say, “Why make a decision already, it’s still four months away?” But in Olympic training time, I can tell you four month flies by really fast. That’s not necessarily enough time to get yourself in peak shape depending on your sport.
There were quite a few (sports) that hadn’t qualified yet, hadn’t even hosted qualifiers. There’s a lot that goes into it. I’m glad that they have made a decision as to where now people can start to move forward and have a longer term to get things in place instead of rushing everything. Hypothetically, if everything goes off well, then I think we’re supposed to be allowed to travel in May. Instead of trying to cram everything into two months or a month-and-a-half, people now have a longer period of time to adjust.
Team USA released a survey of 1,780 athletes this week. Of those surveyed, 68% felt it was not possible for the Olympics to be conducted on a fair playing field if they continued as scheduled. Did you participate in the survey and what was your opinion of postponing?
I absolutely participated in the survey, and yes, I was in favor of postponing the Games. Softball, specifically. Australia and Canada had already said they weren’t sending athletes, so that’s two of our six teams that weren’t going to be there. I don’t think that’s a very fair Olympic Games when we’re supposed to have six teams and we’re going to have four.
Not to mention, as I just touched on, the training is fully impacted. I benefit that my husband can catch me and so we can go throw some still. But if he wasn’t able to catch me, I wouldn’t be able to pitch right now. So come July, I’m not going to be in as good as shape as I can be in.
What have these last couple of weeks been like? Have you been glued to the TV? Did this postponement seem inevitable?
For me, I feel like the last couple of weeks have been a waiting game. Like I said, I got home Thursday. I don’t remember if it was Thursday or Friday, I was standing in the kitchen with my husband and I said, “If this gets postponed, what does that mean for us?” He looked at me and was like, “You’re still going to go for it.” I just needed to know that family-wise, (he was) behind that. For me now, this is a decision that impacts more than just myself. In the past, it was just me.
Mentally, I was physically preparing as if we were still going. I’ve been training and pitching as much as I can and whatnot. But mentally, I was already kind of thinking long-term we’re going to get postponed.
It’s kind of been a waiting game. I’m not glued to the TV. I essentially felt like it was going to be the right decision to postpone it, so I was just waiting for IOC to come to that decision. I think it took Canada making a strong statement for the wheels to really start turning faster. It’s more just been a waiting game, but I’ve also been trying to distance myself from reading up and being glued to the TV just because it becomes overwhelming to just keep hearing people and people’s opinions that aren’t athletes. You don’t understand what it takes or what it means to train for an Olympics. You don’t understand that while yes, technically it’s four months away, there’s way more things that can’t happen in four months for it to be as great of a spectator event as it can be.
In another interview, you said that “there’s no turning back.” So you’ll be back in 2021?
As of right now, we are still up in the air on what that looks like for our team. USA Softball is working hard to get answers for our questions. But yeah, I’m not throwing in the towel. I’ve gone this far, I’ve trained, I feel like I’m in a good place physically, mentally, pitching-wise, everything. My goal is to continue and see these Olympics through.
Have you gotten any indication from Team USA about new team trials? Will this roster be the same in 2021?
Unfortunately, we don’t know. This is very uncharted territory for everybody. I don’t know that anybody has an “In Case of a World Pandemic” clause in their policies and procedures. I know they are working closely with the (United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee) to try to get answers to that. But as of right now, we don’t know. I’m going to cross my fingers and right now mentally prepare as if the 18 that were named as roster and alternates, that us 18 are going to continue forward.
When it comes to growing the game of softball, how important were these Olympics?
I think the biggest thing these Olympics showed is that we can get softball back into the Games. Obviously I would like softball to be on the permanent docket where it’s not in and out continuously. It does show that softball’s a world sport that people want to see.
For us, it’s a chance to spark another dream and some younger girls, but at the same time, get the world on board to continue the fight for us to to get on the permanent docket and not just be an exhibition sport when countries feel like it’s necessary. It gives hope. The unfortunate part is again after this, we don’t know when we’re back in the Olympics. We’re going to hope that LA puts us back in 2028. At the same time, the fight to get on the permanent docket won’t stop.
Why did you want to come back?
There was a point and time that I was in the coaching pool for USA Softball. When I didn’t get selected as a coach, I wasn’t really upset. I think knowing I wasn’t upset meant that my heart wasn’t into coaching in this program. When I went to pull my name out of the coaching pool, they asked why. Part of the reason why was I felt like it would be difficult for me to coach athletes that I could still say “Hey, do it like this” and show them exactly how it’s supposed to look.
With that came the question of would you want to play again. That came from a friend of mine. The more I thought about it, I knew I could. The more I thought about it and talked about it with my husband, it was just a call to come try again. I really felt like I could still throw at a very elite level and that I (can) help this team have a very solid chance at a gold medal. If I thought that I could help that cause, then I needed to go for it. Truly, I want to help this generation feel what a gold medal feels like.
Fun facts for your morning…. https://t.co/qv8gqVeCXT
— Cat Osterman OLY (@catosterman) March 24, 2020
You were the youngest member of the gold medal team in 2004. You are now the oldest player on the 2020 roster. Have you liked your role as an elder stateswoman?
It’s very different. I think I enjoy it just because I can sit back and see different directions or different age groups of kids that I’ve coached because I’ve been coaching for 12 years. For me, I get to see this all unfold every day before my eyes.
It’s just awesome to be someone who has the experience. This group of girls has played on the national team for a long time, some of them 10 years even. But they haven’t been to an Olympics. To be able to cash in on that experience and talk to them about what’s its like and then, God willing, everything goes the way we planned and after we win the gold medal, what the next couple of days with media are like because that’s the whirlwind that is absolutely mind-blowing and exciting.
Just being able to share those experience and at the same time remind them when we’re on tour that I’ve been through two tours, it’s supposed to be hard. It’s not going to just be fun and games. This is going to prepare us because when we get over there and things settle in, we’ll be at our best.
It’s been different, but I enjoy it. Just from an experience standpoint, I can share it on so many levels having done it while in college and also done it as an athlete out of college.
You took a leave of absence from your job as Texas State’s associate head coach. What did you miss about coaching this year?
I think the biggest thing I miss about coaching is the relationship I have with the kids. I really do enjoy getting to know these kids on a personal level and helping them use our sport to be able to better themselves for life later on. Just not having the interaction with my athletes and being able to see them every day and check in, see how what’s going on whether it’s school, softball, life. I did a little bit through text messages and social media and stuff, but it’s still different than being there every day with them and being able to connect.
Texas State has four seniors on its roster. Texas has six. Miranda Elish has said she’ll come back if the NCAA grants an extra year of eligibility. Should those seniors get this year back?
I think it’s a great move. In my mind, if this had happened to football, they would have made that decision along with the decision to cancel the season. If you’re going to do that for football athletes, then I think you need to do that for all athletes.
For them to come out and say that the spring sports, they’re going to waive a year of eligibility, I think it’s huge. It gives athletes a chance to end their careers the right way. Obviously some of them may have been having great seasons. You’ll get another chance to do that, you won’t just lose something.
You have to look at it deeper for kids that may not have had a great freshman year or had a freshman experience and transferred somewhere else and they were seniors this year, now you have two years that weren’t great for them. I think it’s a great move by the NCAA. I’m excited to see how it impacts people. I think it’s the right move to give the athletes what they’ve worked hard for.
Speaking of Miranda, what are your thoughts on her and the season that Texas was having?
Miranda’s a great pitcher. We all knew that before she even came to Texas, which is why everyone got excited that she came to Texas because she had made a name for herself at Oregon. She was at the national team tryout in January for the 2019 team and I talked to her a little bit. She’s a great competitor, she wants to win, she obviously works hard. You can tell that she keeps herself in great shape, which is awesome. Not a lot of younger athletes understand how much that can pay off for you.
Her and I have had brief exchanges on social media. She’s always been super nice and so supportive of what I did previously. I’m completely supportive of everything she’s doing now. In fact, before the season started, I said, “Take us back to the Promised Land” and she was like, “That’s the plan.”
I was really excited that she decided to come to Texas with Coach White (White). I’ve been so excited to see the program continue to rise. They were having an incredible year and I thought this would be the year they would go back to Oklahoma City. I think they had a great chance to make a run at the title. Hopefully they can put all the pieces back together for next season, too. If they return most of their seniors, they obviously they’ll have just as strong of a team.
Your long-awaited jersey retirement ceremony was supposed to happened on Wednesday. Have you heard from Texas about a rescheduling?
I have not heard from anybody about rescheduling. Obviously as soon as they canceled things, I knew that was out of the window. But I’ve again told my husband that I’ve waited 14 years, what’s 15?
I’m just assuming they’ve got bigger fish to fry, figuring out the blanketed year of eligibility for everyone and what that means and (what) that means to the school and athletic department. I know there is bigger fish for them to fry. I’m not worried about it. I know at some point we’ll talk about rescheduling it. (Texas athletic director) Chris Del Conte has been great in letting me know that it was going to happen eventually, and so he made that happen. I know it’s not going to get lost in the shuffle.
Nobody has worn the No. 8 since you left, but what does it mean for you to have your number officially retired?
It’s the biggest honor, I think. To me, the entire time that I’ve essentially (said) I’ve waited for this, hoping it would one day be able to be something that could be done. It’s just a matter of letting female athletes know that their careers and their impact made as big of a mark on the athletic department as a whole as did your male athletes, your Earl Campbells, your Vince Youngs, your Ricky Wlliamses, your Rogers Clemens, Greg Swindell, Brooks Kieschnick, whoever it is.
Yes, male athletes get the recognition and those names are synonymous a lot of times with their universities, but female athletes can make that impact, too. I think it’s only fair that they get the same recognition. I think this is Texas finally being able to say you know what, these female athletes have put a stamp on not female athletics, these females have put a stamp on Texas athletics. It’s a tremendous honor and I’m super excited to see it.
I know coach (Connie) Clark didn’t give (the No. 8) out. She told me when I was done, she wasn’t going to. I know when she left, she passed that message on and coach White hasn’t given it out either, which that in itself is a gesture of honor and I appreciate it. It will be exciting to finally see the jersey retired and honored. I loved my time at Texas. I bleed burnt orange through and through, so it just will be an exciting time for the Longhorn faithful.