Host City: Atlanta, United States
Date Started: July 21, 1996
Date Finished: July 30, 1996
Participants: 120 (0 men and 120 women) from 8 countries
Youngest Participant: Elba Lebrón (17 years, 140 days)
Oldest Participant: Myriam Segarra (41 years, 196 days)
Most Medals (Athlete): 45 athletes with 1 medal
Most Medals (Country): 3 countries with 1 medal
Softball began in the 1890s as a variant of baseball, usually played by women. It was originally called mushball, kittenball, or indoor baseball, but acquired the name softball by the 1920s. In the United States the sport became organized with the formation of the Amateur Softball Association in 1933. Several variants of the sport exist in the United States, including fast-pitch, modified fast-pitch, and slow-pitch, but the international style is fast-pitch. The international organization was the International Softball Federation (ISF), which was formed in 1952, although after softball was dropped from the Olympics after 2008, the softball and baseball federations combined into one. World Softball Championships for women began in 1965, first held in Melbourne, Australia. Softball (fast-pitch) made its début as a full-medal sport for women at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Eight teams competed in a round-robin tournament with the top four advancing to the play-offs, which were held by what was termed the Page System. In the Page System, there were two semi-finals. One semi-final matched the third- and fourth-placed teams, with the winner advancing to the final, and the loser being placed fourth. The other semi-final matched the first- and second-placed teams, with the winner advancing to the grand final, and the loser playing the winner of the first semi-final in the final. The winner of the final then advanced to the grand final, playing the winner of the second semi-final.
The eight teams were chosen by a qualifying system, as follows – host nation United States; the top four teams from the 1994 World Championships (China, Australia, Canada, Chinese Taipei [which was fifth, but the United States had finished first and was automatically qualified]); Asian/Oceanian Qualifying Tournament (Japan); Pan American Qualifying Tournament (Puerto Rico); and European/African Qualifying Tournament (The Netherlands).
The softball tournament was not held in Atlanta, but at Golden Park in Columbus, Georgia, which is about 175 km (110 miles) southwest of Atlanta. Golden Park was a baseball park built in 1926, but renovated in 1994 for the Olympic softball tournament. The United States women won the gold medal, although they did lose one game in the round-robin, and their play-off games, both against China, were fairly close, and the grand final game was quite controversial – see the event description for more details.