Yukiko Ueno had waited 4,718 days for this moment, 13 long years that included an extra delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, after all the doubts the Tokyo Olympics would ever take place, she was back on the mound trying to start her country to another softball gold medal.
“Before the game I was actually trying to calm down and not let myself overly feel excited about this opportunity to go back to the mound for the Olympics,” she said through a translator. “I was overly thinking.”
The 39-year-old pitcher settled down from a shaky start to allow two hits over 4 1/3 innings in a nearly empty stadium, and host Japan got off to a winning start when the Olympics got underway, beating Australia 8-1 Wednesday. The U.S. defeated Italy 2-0 in the second game of a tripleheader.
Playing about 150 miles north of the main Olympic sites in Tokyo, the teams lined up for the national anthems in a stadium with a listed capacity of 30,000 that had about 50 spectators, presumably team and Olympic officials, plus media.
The first two days of the softball tournament are being played about 40 miles from the site of a 2011 nuclear power plant disaster. The rest of the tournament will be in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
“It's kind of a disappointment," Ueno said. "We wanted to demonstrate our play in front of people of Fukushima, who have made a lot of efforts to reconstruct Fukushima.”
Fans were barred from the Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many in Japan have questioned whether the Olympics should take place at all with low levels of vaccination in the nation.
“Australia can create its own excitement,” third baseman Stacey Porter said.
Ueno, who won the 2008 gold medal game, struck out seven and threw 85 pitches for the win.
Minori Naito and Saki Yamazaki hit two-run homers off loser Kaia Parnaby and Yu Yamamoto, who had three RBIs, added a two-run drive against Tarni Stepto in the fifth that ended the game under a rout rule.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.