An Unfair Ending for Team USA Softball
11-0, 3-0, 7-0, 8-1, 7-0, 8-0, 9-0.
Those numbers represent the scores in each of Team USA Softball's Preliminary Round games in the Olympic event.
53-1 was the combined margin of those seven games, a truly staggering indication of a team dominating their sport. Two more games of anywhere near that kind of dominance and the ladies would be bringing home their fourth straight gold medal in softball. This streak goes back to the debut of Olympic softball in the 1996 games in Atlanta.
Two more games, the first one against Japan in the Semifinal Round. Crystl Bustos breaks a scoreless tie, in the top of the 9th inning, with a three-run bomb to put the US ahead before eventually winning 4-1.
After losing a tough game, the Japanese had to beat Australia to earn a rematch with the US in the Championship. After an incredible, back-and-forth twelve inning marathon, Japan pulled out a 4-3 win to get their second shot at the impossible—taking down the unbeatable American women.
It would seem there would be no way for Japan to even keep the game close, after playing 21 innings within a 24 hour period just to get to this game. They had certainly earned the respect and attention of the US women after their outstanding effort in the semis (after losing 7-0 to the US in the Preliminary Round), but there just couldn't be anything left in their tank. Could there?
They sent pitcher Yukiko Ueno went back to the mound against the US. She had pitched all 21 innings in their games against the US and Australia the previous day. Now she was being asked to do it one more time.
Just like the semifinal game, Bustos once again homered for the US, off Ueno. Problem was, that was the only run the US would score. And it would not be enough.
US starter Cat Osterman gave up two runs in five innings, and Monica Abbott came on to pitch the final two. She allowed one run to score in the seventh, on her own error, which put Japan up 3-1. This was the final score, giving the Japanese the Gold medal.
It is the first, and perhaps the last time, that a nation other than the United States won the Gold medal. There will be no Olympic Softball in the 2012 games in London. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted back in 2006 to discontinue the event after the 2008 games.
At the time of the vote, it seemed as though there was simply no competition for the United States, The idea of simply handing a gold medal to each of the women on the US team just isn't what the Olympics are about, they figured.
The IOC's decision to eliminate softball reflected an assumption based on a very short history of results. Yes, Team USA had won Gold in all three prior Olympics: 1996, 2000, and 2004. Yes, in 2004, Team USA won every single game, while outscoring their opponents 51-1.
They seemed unbeatable going into this year's games, and while 2008 was shaping up to be a replication of 2004's amazing run of dominance, Japan's win today to claim the gold medal proves just why sports is so exciting. The unthinkable can happen at any time; and nobody is unbeatable.
The result that we woke up to hear in the US this morning was absolutely shocking. It was supposed to be a bittersweet game for the American women—a win in their final ever Olympic competition to earn the Gold.
For each of these women, the thought of not having a chance to participate in another Olympics in four years is heartbreaking enough. However, the thought of not having another chance to participate in the Olympics AND not having the chance to redeem a loss in their final Olympic game—that is just completely cruel and unfair.
I would have said the same for Japan if they had lost this game, after proving in the semifinal that they could compete with the United States. Everyone deserves to compete. Everyone deserves a shot to beat the best. The sport will certainly be missed in 2012.
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