Long Island native Ken Eriksen is returning home from Tokyo with an Olympic silver medal.
Eriksen captured silver as head coach of the U.S. softball team. The U.S. lost in the gold medal game to Japan, 2-0, on Tuesday.
"Having our team receive the silver medal, an Olympic silver medal is pretty special." Eriksen told Newsday in an email on his way back to the U.S. "This past year I seriously didn’t think this team would get a chance because of COVID. However, they did an incredible job of getting to the championship game despite the lack of training and prep that we would have had in a normal year. Japan played great that day."
Eriksen was born in New York City, and grew up in Central Islip and Stony Brook. He graduated from Ward Melville High School in 1979.
Eriksen won a gold medal as an assistant coach for the U.S. at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He took over as the national team head coach in 2011. He’s been the head coach at the University of South Florida since 1996.
He said it meant a lot to him to lead the U.S. to a silver medal on Tuesday. The Americans came into the gold-medal game with a 5-0 record and had given Japan its only loss, 2-1, on a seventh-inning, walk-off home run by Kelsey Stewart the day before.
"Anytime you represent your country is exhilarating, stressful, and prideful," Eriksen said. "To be in the top two with a great chance to win it was all you could ask for."
Softball was not contested at the 2012 or 2016 Olympics, and the 2020 Olympics were postponed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Softball is not on the schedule for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Eriksen said the Olympic experience and the yearlong wait was stressful.
"You get geared up after qualifying, then you get geared up even more in the preparation phase," he said. "Then last March we came to a complete stop for eight months. In January 2021, we started up again and then it was hoping that it was a go. We didn’t really have the whole team together [or the coaches] until mid-June so it was like staying up all night cramming for the final exam."