“People have very high expectations from Japan and that puts a huge pressure on us,” said bowler Yukiko Ueno, one of the stars of the home team, who is the biggest obstacle in the hunt for the gold medal. It will be the United States.
Returning to the Olympic agenda alongside baseball after a 13-year absence, softball will be the first of 33 sports in these games to enter the competition when Japan meet Australia on Wednesday in Fukushima, 250 kilometers north of Tokyo. Italy, the United States, Mexico and Canada will be the other two matches on the first day.
“Wanting to win gold has made me work hard,” Ueno, 38, added in an interview with the World Baseball and Softball Federation (WBSC).
The last time softball was on the Olympic calendar, in Beijing in 2008, the United States lost to Japan their gold medals at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
“I want to believe in my players and do my best, with all my heart, to meet expectations,” said coach Rika Otsugi, who played for the Japanese teams that won silver in Sydney and bronze in Athens announcing her 15-team squad.
The long wait has also been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yukiko Ueno, Yukio Maine and Eri Yamada survived the Golden Team that beat the United States 3-1 in the 2008 Beijing Final. Ueno scored this victory.
Kat Osterman and Monica Abbott used to belong to that American team, and now they’re back in business.
Ostermar, the 2004 gold medalist who came out of retirement to become an Olympian again, has a clear goal at the age of 38. “There’s an amazing generation of softball players who can’t compete in the Olympics… If I could help this group of young athletes win a gold medal, then I had to,” she told Olympic Channel.
The rivalry between the Japanese and the Americans had new chapters outside the Olympic field.
The United States defeated Japan 7-6 in 10 rounds in the final of the last World Softball Championships, in 2018, on Japanese soil, in Chiba. Thus, it re-certified the 2016 title after the Japanese conquered the 2012 and 2014 title.
“It was confirmation that the United States is ready to the highest level,” coach Ken Eriksen told reporters after confirming he would lead the team in Tokyo 2020.
Australia is always on the podium for Olympic softball, aiming for high goals led by Stacy Porter, the 2004 Athens silver medalist and Beijing 2008 bronze medalist. “I’m excited about our team’s potential,” Director Ling Haro commented in a WBSC memo.
Meanwhile, Canada has tested Olympic athletes Lauren Regula and Jennifer Saling, and Mexico has an ace in Dallas Escobedo.
Italy also seeks to shine as a tribute to Australia’s Enrico Obletter, the coach who led his way to qualification, who died of Covid-19 in February and was succeeded by Federico Pezzolini.
Softball and baseball return to the Olympics in the new sports package included in Tokyo 2020 along with karate, surfing, sports climbing and skateboarding. They will disappear again in Paris 2024, but will return in Los Angeles 2028.