USA Softball Star Valerie Arioto Details Preparation for 2021 Tokyo Olympics (Exclusive)

Softball is returning to the Olympics next year after being placed on hiatus for the last two Olympic events. The USA Women's Softball team is one of the six to qualify for the Olympics and is the odds-on favorite to win gold. PopCulture.com spoke exclusively with USA softball veteran Valerie Arioto who revealed her reaction when she heard the news the globally revered games were going to be pushed back to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was initially devastated, but I understood the situation," Arioto said in our series, PopCulture @ Home. "We were on the road when we got sent home because of COVID-19 in March. It was funny because at first, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I've been waiting so long for this.' I reframed it as 'I'm going to take that first part of tour [training January and February] and try to adjust for this next year of training to get better. Luckily for us, softball already qualified for the Olympics."

Arioto said she has not been able to train with her team since the pandemic began as she lives in California, one of the hardest-hit states amid the growing COVID-19 cases in the U.S. That has led to her doing a lot of training with family members. "My dad, who has been amazing, has been mountain biking with me, keeping me in shape," Arioto said. He's in really great shape. He's seen my swing for years. I've been able to do those things, stay in shape. My fiancé also helps me train as well. I would say I have a lot of great people in my corner who want me to succeed and helping me through this hard time."

The last time softball was in the Olympics was in 2008 and Japan earned the gold medal while the USA earned the silver. With Japan being the host country for the Olympics, its softball team automatically qualified for the games. The USA qualified when they beat Japan in the 2018 World Championships to take home gold. Arioto said Japan is a tough team, but the four other teams who have qualified (Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico) present different challenges.

"Each team brings something very different and unique," Arioto stated. "It's going to be really huge for us to stay with the game that we play and stick with our strengths instead of worrying about too much of each team does and really sticking of what we do best. Every single game is going to be competitive and that’s why I’m really excited for softball in general, but baseball as well."

USA Softball has done its share of winning over the years. The team won gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics and has won 11 gold medals at the World Championships. Arioto said when viewers watch the softball team in the Olympics next year, they will not be disappointed.

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"Softball is such a fast-paced, fun energetic game," she said."I think anyone who watches even if they don't know the sport intimately, they are just excited to see how fast-paced it is. That’s what I think back to USA and all of softball at the height international level brings is competitive, hustle, energy, just this atmosphere of being competitive. When they tune they're going to see the personality of our team and how we work together and we put on a great show."

Check out our full-length interview with Valerie for more on the Team USA star, and keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the very latest on all your favorite sports stars, athletes and more.