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Sport superstar's Fakenham visit

PUBLISHED: 08:45 26 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:41 07 July 2010

Taeko Utsugi, right, meets the students at Fakenham High School at her softball masterclass.

Taeko Utsugi, right, meets the students at Fakenham High School at her softball masterclass.

A Japanese sporting superstar swung into Fakenham to film a school softball masterclass as part of an international campaign to reinstate the game at the Olympics.

A Japanese sporting superstar swung into Fakenham to film a school softball masterclass as part of an international campaign to reinstate the game at the Olympics.

Taeko Utsugi is Japan's former women's softball team manager and a household name in her homeland, where the game is fanatically celebrated as a national sport.

She gave lessons to 20 enthusiastic students from Fakenham High School which will be televised in Japan as part of the country's bid to raise the international profile of baseball's sister sport.

Both sports were dropped from the 2012 Olympics but the broadcast is intended to heighten softball's worldwide appeal and convince the International Olympic Committee that it warrants a recall.

Ms Utsugi, on her first visit to the UK, told the students she wanted to make Fakenham a “softball city”.

“The reason to come here was to bring the dreams of the children of Japan, who all want to play softball in the Olympics in 2016,” she said.

“I didn't expect the kids to be so excited. I was impressed that even though there was a language barrier they understood what I meant.

“I want to make Fakenham a softball city - if one school starts doing it, others will start to copy it and it will have a major impact. I would be overjoyed if I could see an Olympian from this school.”

The softball classes will be screened on BS-i, a subscription channel with 30 million viewers.

On the first of three days of filming, the students' Olympian mentor drilled their catching and fielding techniques and encouraged them to respond to instructions in her native language.

There was also a demonstration by Japan's Olympic pitcher Juri Takayama, who fizzed a bewildering array of fast deliveries down the school sports hall.

Mark House, the school's head of PE, said: “In Japan, Taeko is like Alex Ferguson and Juri is like David Beckham.

“The governing body described Taeko Utsugi as the mother of the game and you don't get much better than that. The kids are really excited.

“One of the reasons we have worked so hard on softball is because it has a girls' focus so this will also raise the profile of girls' sport in our school.”

Year Nine pupil Gemma Craine has already represented the British team at a European tournament in Prague.

“It is not every day you get this, and the school is really proud to have someone so famous to come and teach us the sport and help to keep it going,” she said. “I would love to be in the Olympics in 2016, I just have to keep training and trying to get better.”

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