A new round was added to baseball's qualifying tournament for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a system that would have given the United States a second chance to get to the Athens Games.

Qualification for the eight-team Olympic competition will take place in two phases, the International Baseball Federation said yesterday. Also, qualification will be based on the results over an entire tournament, with single-elimination games no longer part of the format.

This is a significant change in light of the U.S. loss to Mexico in the quarterfinals of the Olympic qualifier in Panama in 2003. The United States was ousted from the tournament despite having a 3-0 record at the time of the game; Mexico was 0-3.

"We believe it is more in keeping with traditional baseball competition, where advancement in a tournament is built upon the overall strength of your team, not just the ability to win or lose a single game," USA Baseball Executive Director Paul Seiler said. "We also believe it will produce the strongest Olympic baseball field to date."

In the first phase of qualification, two teams from the Americas, one from Asia and one from Europe will qualify through continental competitions to be completed by October 30, 2007. Those four countries and host China will qualify automatically. The remaining three spots will be decided by an eight-team event after the first round of continental qualifying.

The eight teams that will compete will be the third- and fourth-place teams from Americas, the second- and third-place teams from Asia, the second- and third-place teams from Europe, the top team from Africa and top team from Oceania. The top three teams from this qualifying tournament will also advance.

Dates and locations of the qualifying tournaments have not been announced.

-- Associated Press