Fifty-six hours before the Olympic flame would be ignited at the Opening Ceremony and 183 miles north, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics officially got underway with a dropball from the pitching circle at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
It was fitting that one of the greatest Olympians in Japanese history, Beijing 2008 gold medalist softball pitcher Ueno Yukiko, delivered the opening pitch of her nation's Olympic Games Tuesday night. She would go on to notch her eighth Olympic win as Japan defeated Australia in five innings, 8-1, in an opening round game to get Japan’s delayed gold medal defense off to an emphatic start.
Ueno worked around some first inning trouble, loading the bases with one out and conceding the first run to Australia on a hit-by-pitch, but escaping without further damage. Japan immediately drew level in the bottom of the first on a Yamamoto Yu RBI single, then the hosts teed off with the long ball.
Naito Minori put Japan ahead in the bottom of the third with a two-run drive to center and Fujita Yamato followed one inning later with a mammoth two-run shot into the Australian bullpen. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Yamamoto launched Japan’s third home run of the game to put the host nation up by seven with less than two innings to play. By rule, that ended the game.
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Ueno and relief pitcher Goto Miu held Australia to just two hits over the five innings.
The game was also significant for its venue. Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium (converted to softball dimensions for the first week of the Games) is located in Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated by an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. Holding the first event of the Olympics there, even in the absence of fans, was meant to commemorate the recovery efforts of the past decade in the region.
Unlike previous Olympics, the Tokyo softball tournament is contested over just two rounds, a preliminary round-robin and the medal games. Both Australia and Japan will play the remaining four teams in the tournament – Mexico, Italy, Canada and the United States – in the coming days.