Olympic softball medalist Jessica Mendoza, of the United States, smiles during the 2009 SportAccord gathering in Denver, Wednesday. Softball is campaigning to get back in the Olympic games.
Olympic softball medalist Jessica Mendoza, of the United States, smiles during the 2009 SportAccord gathering in Denver, Wednesday. Softball is campaigning to get back in the Olympic games.

DENVER — U.S. softball star Jessica Mendoza is lobbying for one more comeback, rallying her sport to return for the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Instead of a rally cap, the outfielder is showing off the shiny gold medal she won in Athens and the silver from Beijing as she works the crowd in Denver this week at SportAccord. The gathering of sports industry leaders includes senior international Olympic officials who will ultimately decide softball’s fate.

Also in the running for inclusion in 2016 are baseball, golf, rugby sevens, roller speedskating, squash and karate. The IOC will choose a maximum of two new sports when it meets in October in Copenhagen, Denmark.

These are anxious times for athletes hoping to get in — or back — to the Olympics.

Softball and baseball took their last swings for at least eight years at the Beijing Olympics after IOC members voted in 2005 to exclude the sports for the 2012 London Games.

The decision hit Mendoza hard.

“It was like someone punched me in the stomach,” she said. “I remember losing my breath. When softball is that much a part of your heart and who you are, and they say it’s no longer in the Olympics, it feels like a part of you has died.”

The U.S. softball team may have been too good for its own good, winning three straight Olympic gold medals heading into the Beijing Games. There, an uncompetitive sport turned competitive — the Americans were stunned by Japan in the final.

To Mendoza, that was proof the world is catching up.

“Everyone says losing the gold medal game helped our cause, showing the U.S. isn’t dominant,” Mendoza said. “It was really frustrating to hear that. The sport is global, we aren’t dominant.”

Even if the U.S. was still ruling international competition, Mendoza wonders why that would be such a bad thing.

“You look at a Michael Phelps, is anyone telling him, ‘You know, you’re really too dominant. You’re winning way too many medals,'” Mendoza said. “That’s what really hurt me. The Olympics is about domination. It’s about giving 5 million percent.”