USA Softball Star Carries Torch (Again) in Beijing

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Olympic power hitters don't usually stand 5-foot-4 and have a love for tapdance. But USA Softball infielder Vicky Galindo is not your ordinary fastpitch slugger.

"I totally miss all the noise you can make with those tap shoes, said Galindo. "There's nothing like it."

Nothing-that is--save the chance to represent her country in a sport she has played since her father put her on the field as a four-year-old. "He was coaching my brother's team and they had an extra jersey. So out I went," said Galindo.

It's a dream she's cultivated since the day she got to carry the Olympic torch as a 12-year-old in the small town of Winters, Calif.

"It was softball's first year (1996) as an Olympic sport, and it was amazing!" added Galindo. "As I was carrying it--really carefully--I told myself right then and there this is what I want to do. I want to play in the Olympics."

But any shot at the Beijing games might not have happened if not for some timely advice from her mother that summer.

"She was like, 'Okay, honey, it's time you choose.'" said Galindo. "Tap or fastpitch? And since tap doesn't give out any Olympic gold medals..."

The road to national team mainstay was not an easy one. After a stellar career at UC Berkeley she found herself struggling to crack the starting lineup of Team USA in 2006 tournaments such as the ISF World Championships and the World Cup of Softball, and wondered to herself if she was doing enough as a utility player to make the team in 2008.

"I just wanted to play perfect ball," said Galindo. "We had our Olympic try outs coming up and I just wanted to make sure I secured my place on the team. Because you never know."

Ironically enough it was her work as a softball coach at San Jose State that gave her the confidence and insight to take her game to the next level.

"Being a coach has improved my softball game immensely," said Galindo. "I not only reinforce what I know verbally, but I also have learned to appreciate the frustration that coaches go through with players."

Galindo could always hit, as evidenced by her performance at the 2007 World Cup of Softball where she hit .467 (7-for-15) with six RBI and one homerun--and demolishing opposing pitching in the Canada Cup by going .615 (4-for-13) with five RBI and seven runs scored.

For Galindo the challenge was being consistent on defense, something Team USA head coach Mike Candrea has seen her make great strides in.

"I think Vicky has worked very hard to get this kind of opportunity," said Candrea. "I see her getting better everyday. She's a player that brings a lot to the table."

Like most players on the team participating in this year's competition represents a bittersweet accomplishment. Softball has been removed from the Olympic rotation after this year's games and can be reinstated no earlier than 2016, twelve years after many players first played in international competition.

"It's pretty sad for all the girls," said Galindo. "Eight years is a long long time. This might be our last shot at a gold medal ever."

Still Galindo remains upbeat, even with controversy swirling around the games. "It just broke my heart to see people try to blow out the torch." And despite long hours travelling by bus for the 'Bound for Beijing Tour', "Some days I don't even know which state I'm in ," she realizes she is about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey that very few people in the world get to experience.

"From that first moment I carried the Olympic torch, I have dreamed of being a part of something so big that the entire world had to stop and watch," said Galindo. "And now I have this great opportunity, and I will not take one moment for granted."

Even if it means giving up the Charleston Shuffle for a two-out base hit and chance to take home a gold medal.

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