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Softball Olympic Games 2020 - Official Payoff

Yukiko Ueno’s Tokyo 2020 gold medal adds to her legendary career

Yukiko Ueno’s Tokyo 2020 gold medal adds to her legendary career
03/08/2021
Yukiko Ueno, who turned 39 on 22 July, has pitched 100 innings in her Olympic career, giving up 55 hits, 14 earned runs with 89 strikeouts and 13 walks. Her cumulative ERA is 0.98.

One week ago today Yukiko Ueno made history again at the Yokohama Stadium leading Japan to their second consecutive Olympic softball gold medal, 13 years after her legendary performance in Beijing 2008. The 39-year old pitcher added a second gold medal to her brilliant career, that also includes back to back WBSC Women’s Softball World Championships in 2012 and 2014. 

Tokyo 2020 was Ueno’s third Olympic appearance. In Athens 2004, the Fukuoka native pitched the first and only 7-inning perfect game in the history of Olympic softball. On 20 August 2004, Japan faced China in the last game of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Preliminary Round, a win-or-go-home game for the Japanese side. And a 22-year-old Ueno delivered the greatest single game pitching performance in the history of Olympic softball. Japan ended with the bronze medal.

“Ueno and I have been on the same team for over 20 years now,” commented Japanese head coach Reika Utsugi, who played third base with Ueno in the Japanese bronze-medal winning team in Athens 2004, during the press conference after Japan's debut against Australia. “I think Ueno was the reason we became so strong together as a team and dreamed about winning the Olympic gold.”

In 2008, Ueno was the main character in one of the biggest upsets in the Olympics. She pitched 28 innings in two days, in a 413-pitch effort to guide Japan to their first Olympic softball gold medal. After pitching nine innings in the morning, losing to USA 4-1, the right hander went into the circle again in the afternoon, and pitched another 12 innings in a 4-3 win over Australia to clinch the second spot in the final. The day after, she came back and tossed a complete-game in the final to clinch the gold medal against USA.

"I was a high school student when the Beijing Olympics happened, so it is like a miracle that I play with Ueno now,” said two-way player Yamato Fujita, who was named Tokyo 2020 Olympic softball competition MVP. “I'm honoured that we had this greatest moment together. So I found from this experience that if you don't give up, a dream will come true. So, I want children to keep playing softball without giving up their dreams."

Jessica Mendoza has witnessed Ueno’s greatness in two different ways. In 2004 and 2008 she competed against the Japanese superstar as an Olympian, and in Tokyo she saw Ueno win gold again as a USA television network commentator. What's the difference between the 2008 and 2021 Uenos?

“She hides her ball more," Mendoza told the WBSC. "We used to be able to pick her signs a little bit, but she really does a good job. She has changed her wind up so she comes over with her glove to her side, hiding the ball a lot more than she used to. 

“Her change up is even better than it’s ever been. She also added an off-speed curve ball, which she didn’t have in 2008. So these last 13 years she’s been busy and which she might not have the same length she had before she’s definitely got the same stuff.”

Ueno said her pitching in the Tokyo 2020 triumph compared to the Beijing gold medal victory was "totally different".

"In the Beijing Games, I was desperate to throw anyway. I was throwing with power, throwing as many pitches as I could, that kind of memory. Now, I feel like I'm throwing with the help of the team. I have to do what I have to do. The feeling of pitching is different, and I think I'm able to pitch with the knowledge that comes with age."

Ueno has pitched 100 innings in her Olympic career, giving up 55 hits, 14 earned runs with 89 strikeouts and 13 walks. Her cumulative ERA is 0.98.

This time, Ueno didn’t pitch alone the final game. Young left hander Miu Goto entered into the circle to pitch one inning in the Gold Medal Game, setting up the situation for Ueno’s comeback in the seventh to close the tournament. Utsugi praised Goto and compared her to the young Ueno she met in the early 2000s. “I really look up to and respect Ueno so much!,” said the 20-year old pitcher. “So hearing someone say I resemble her makes me so happy. And I want to continue playing softball to be one step closer to her."

Will Ueno be ready for a potential Olympic softball competition in Los Angeles 2028? "I can't think that far ahead yet right now," she said during the press conference after the gold medal game. "I had a lot of fun throwing in the game today. I had a strong desire to throw until I could. If I'm pitching until then, there might be a possibility of me taking the mound again (laughs)."

Tokyo 2020 – Olympic Softball