YOKOHAMA, Japan – After 13 years of waiting, it naturally came down to it: The softball world powers, the USA and Japan, will fight for the gold medal on Tuesday. The last time the sport and these two teams were in that position, Japan and Yukiko Ueno stunned the previously invincible United States and its stars Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott.
Given the chance to avenge this shortcoming, the most senior United States was once again defeated by its rival.
39-year-old Ueno, who competed in her third Olympics, angered the United States again. And with a couple of well-placed hits and a lucky jump, Japan beat the United States 2-0 at Yokohama Baseball Stadium to claim another gold medal, albeit more than a decade apart.
The loss was the only loss the U.S. team suffered at the Tokyo Games, where softball, booted from the permanent Olympic program, returned for the first time since 2008.
On Monday, Japan Ueno rested and lost to the United States in the teams’s final round robin game, a competition that didn’t matter as both teams were by far the best of the tournament and already had a spot in the gold medal game . A day later, Japan won with its best on the hill after all these years.
The game was the final Olympic appearance for Osterman, 38, and Abbott, 35, two veterans who also fell in the 2008 gold medal game against Ueno and Japan.
At that time, the United States had never failed to win a 1996 Olympic gold medal in softball. When the sport returned to the Tokyo Games, there was little doubt that the United States and Japan would achieve that very position again, for the third time in Olympic softball history, in the battle for the grand prize.
Osterman, who started Tuesday without allowing a run in nearly 13 innings in that tournament, started the game for the United States. She coughed an infield single in the first inning – a comebacker she couldn’t put up properly – and a double in the second. But she escaped without harm and got help from right fielder Michelle Moultrie and her barrel catch on the wall to finish the second.
When Osterman led Mana Atsumi to lead the third inning, United States head coach Ken Erickson came out of the dugout to bring on Ally Carda. After Carda allowed another base runner, he broke out of trouble.
One inning later, however, Japan made it big. Yamato Fujita went single, moved to second base with a sacrifice, and then moved up to third with a ground out. They gave Japan a 1-0 lead when Mana Atsumi hacked a ground ball and slid headlong into first base to prevent the throw.
Japan extended their lead in the fifth inning, and given the way Ueno was pitching, two runs felt enough. Abbott went into the game relieved in the fifth game with a runner on base and after a wild pitch she coughed Fujita, Japan’s best hitter during the Olympics, a run-scoring single. On the first base, Fujita pumped for the first time while the Japan built-in bench bounced for joy.
Canada snuck past Mexico 3-2 to win the bronze medal, his first medal in Olympic softball.