Japan has done the unthinkable, as they defeated Team USA 3-1 in softball to win the gold medal in Beijing.
Team USA had plenty of chances to tie the game, and go ahead, but couldn't capitalize off any of them. So they had to settle for a silver medal; one that they never had to wear, or thought of wearing.
The USA has won every gold medal since the sports' induction at the 1996 Atlanta Games. They breezed through the field there, in Sydney and in Athens to wear the gold each time.
They did lose a game in 2000, but haven't lost since then...well, at least until the met up with Japan.
Now in Beijing, they 'claimed' silver, which could very well be the last medal these women ever wear.
The IOC is dropping softball from the Olympic schedule, but there are distant hopes that the sport may return in 2016. That probably all depends on who wins the bid to host those Olympics though.
If there is one solid claim to be made on why softball should not only continue in London for 2012, but for years to come, the USA/Japan game in Beijing was it.
There's rumors that the sport is being dropped because every else is tired of Team USA walking away with the gold year after year. I doubt that's true, but is there really another reasonable explanation?
Isn't the overall sport of softball growing in popularity? Not just in America because of the USA's success, but overall because it is played in the Olympics. The younger generations of softball players could still dream of making it to those Olympic Games, playing a sport they have a fondness for.
Not anymore. Those dreams will slowly die with each passing year there is no sign for the return of softball.
Also, the U.S. hasn't been the only successful softball team in the Olympics. Yes, they have a medal in each Olympic Games (3 gold, 1 silver), but so does Australia (1 silver, 3 bronze). Japan now has three medals in four Games, one of every color.
The U.S. has won more of the 'important' medals, but over the past 12 years, there has been proof of consistent competition. And Beijing was a prime example of that competition showing it's teeth.
It also re-iterates the fact that in the sports world on any given day, even the best can fall.
So for London 2012, I hope softball stays. Because there are three things that I can assure you will happen. One is that the rest of the world sees this upset and thinks that if it can be done once, it can be done again. Secondly, is that Team USA works day in and day out to get back to the top of the mountain. Thirdly, Japan will work just as hard if they want to be able to defend their Olympic title.
If the USA men's basketball team can climb that mountain, so can the softball team.
Because for the next four years, and possibly forever, Japan will be known as the reigning (or the last) gold medalists.