U.S. softball copes with jarring loss
BEIJING -- SI.com checked in with Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts shortly after Japan's stunning 3-1 win over the U.S. in the gold medal game in softball on Thursday. It was the first Olympic loss for the U.S. since 2000, and ended its run of three consecutive Olympic titles.
SI.com: Most people will be stunned at the result. What happened?
Roberts: Well, I think what you saw was one of the most remarkable pitching performances you will ever see. Japan's Yukiko Ueno pitched 21 innings the day before and still had enough left her in arm to keep the U.S. team silent. As stunning as the loss was, it's not as amazing as what Ueno did. The U.S. knew that the world was closing the gap on them but I don't think they were expecting to come away with silver in what could be the last Olympics for most of the team.
SI.com: How did U.S. players take the loss?
Roberts: I think catcher Stacey Nuveman expressed it best when she said something to the effect of, "Even though we were down, we were calm and felt in control. To lose is just jarring." Nobody was seen getting emotional right after the loss. I think they were mostly bewildered, wondering what just happened. But they played a team that was more aggressive, more efficient, and superior in the field on this night.
SI.com: Did the crowd favor one of the teams?
Roberts: The crowd was completely raucous most of the night despite the fact there was a small rain delay. The Japanese faithful came out and was just as vocal as the U.S. crowd, perhaps even louder because they had Thunderstix.
SI.com: There are some who would argue that a U.S. loss will ultimately be good for the sport because it shows the gap is closing between America and the rest of the softball world. Do you agree?
Roberts: I would say that the U.S. team would not think this was good for the sport because they wanted it so badly. This wasn't the temporary swan song they were hoping for. But the outcome proves what America had been saying: We're not the only team in town anymore.
SI.com: Assuming the sport is out at the 2012 Games, what kind of impact will the loss of the Olympics have on U.S. softball over the next eight years?
Roberts: Certainly the funding from the USOC will drop significantly. Softball will be treated as a Pan-American bundled sport. However, softball at the college level is very strong and the ratings on ESPN for the College World Series are very solid. So there will still be a great deal of support for the game. The problem will be for the other countries, not America. Foreign countries who relay on significantly on government aid as it relates to their national organizing committees will be devastated if the sport disappears until 2016.
SI.com: Give us your best guess: Will softball get reinstated for the 2016 Games?
Roberts: I think there is great momentum right now to reinstate softball for 2016 due to a couple of important reasons: First, Asian countries have poured a lot of resources into women's softball. Japan is one example, and those countries have a lot of pull with the IOC.
Second, I think America is doing the right thing in exporting its knowledge of the game by establishing clinics in Europe where there is more resistance toward the game of softball. One other wild card for 2016 is the exit of the Bush administration. The undercurrent of anti-Americanism within the IOC, which some say has hurt the U.S. because of its softball dominance, may abate somewhat with a potential administration led by Barack Obama, a rock star in Europe.