Last summer at the World Cup of Softball III in Oklahoma City the buzz in the press box wasn’t the dominating (ho-hum) performance of Team USA—it was a phantom injury that kept Japan’s best pitcher, Yukiko Ueno, out of the tournament.
The word was Ueno wasn’t truly hurt; she had played just a week prior. Instead, it was speculated, Team Japan didn’t want to give the Americans a chance to face Ueno—a talented hurler who had handed Team USA their first loss in Olympic competition since Sept. 21, 2000 at Sydney—before Beijing.
13 months later it might have been the decisive factor in helping Japan to an improbable upset of Team USA.
Last night Ueno snapped Team USA’s 22-game Olympic winning streak en route to a 3-1 victory and first gold medal. Ueno pitched seven innings, one day after she pitched 21 to get the Japanese into the gold-medal game.
What makes the defeat especially bitter is that it is the sport's final appearance in the Olympics for at least eight years.
Having covered this team for the last three years it’s hard to put into words the disappointment this team must have felt. One needs only to see the sight of players such as Crystl Bustos and Tairia Flowers leave their cleats at home plate—a symbolic gesture demonstrating their decision to retire from international competition.
So where does Team USA go from here? And will this help or hurt the game of softball?