Japan wins softball opener in Fukushima in an historic day for the sport

Inspiring start to the Tokyo 2020 Games for the hosts with an 8-1 win over Australia

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Softball - Women - Opening Round - Australia v Japan - Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium - Fukushima, Japan - July 21, 2021. Miu Goto of Japan in action. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Softball - Women - Opening Round - Australia v Japan - Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium - Fukushima, Japan - July 21, 2021. Miu Goto of Japan in action. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

TOKYO - The Japanese women’s softball team defeated Australia 8-1 as the sport made its triumphant return to the Olympic Games for the first time since Beijing 2008.

Dropped along with baseball from the Olympic sport program following the Beijing Olympics, It has been 13 years, or 4,717 days, since softball has been contested at the Games.

The opening game of the tournament, and first event of the Tokyo 2020 Games, was played at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on Wednesday. Japan sealed the victory in just five innings, the game called because of the mercy rule which ends contests if one team leads by seven runs after five innings. The Japanese women are seeking to repeat their gold medal performance from Beijing 2008, where they knocked off the U.S. 3-1 in the finale.

Australia scored first with one run in the first inning, however Japan came from behind with six hits, including three home runs. Yukiko Ueno, the 38-year-old legendary Japanese pitcher went four innings and one out, while allowing just two hits and tallying seven strike-outs for her eighth career Olympic victory.

“We were off a good start - this time, I had many thoughts and emotions, but I was able to enjoy it while accepting all pressures,” Ueno said after the game

Ueno threw the final pitch to clinch Japan’s gold medal in Beijing 2008. She expresses confidence that Japan can once again win gold at the Tokyo 2020 games.

IOC’s president, Thomas Bach, commented the news: “Congratulations to Japan for defeating Australia 8-1 today in softball - it’s a promising start for our Japanese hosts. From what I heard the organization was seamless and worked very well, so I think the Games are off to a great start.”

Softball made its Olympic debut in Atlanta 1996. The U.S. has won three gold medals in the four tournaments, only succumbing to Japan in Beijing.

Softball has been excluded from the Olympic program ever since London 2012. Baseball and softball, two of the most popular sports in Japan, are among five new sports added to the Tokyo 2020 Games. Baseball and softball will not be contested at Paris 2024.

In Tokyo, six teams are squaring off in a round-robin tournament, The first and second place teams will advance to the gold medal game, while the third and fourth place teams will play for the bronze medal.

Baseball and softball games are being held in Fukushima, where the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011 caused devastation, killing nearly 16,000 people. The Japanese government and Tokyo 2020 are showing the world the mass reconstruction from the damage by holding part of the Olympics in the Tohoku region.