In what was to be the final Olympic softball tournament (before the sport was readmitted for Tokyo 2020), the United States began its campaign for a fourth-straight gold medal by dominating the round-robin. The Americans won all seven contests by a combined score of 53-1, including a seven-run, shutout victory over Japan. The United States faced Japan a second time in the semifinal round, winning this time by a score of 4-1. Then, in the gold medal game, the United States and Japan squared off for a third time. The Japanese hitters surprised American star pitcher Cat Osterman with two early runs, and while Crystl Bustos pulled a run back with a solo home run in the fourth inning, that was all the offense the United States could muster against Japanese hurler Yukiko Ueno in a five-hit, complete game performance. Japan took the gold to the shock of the U.S. and remain the defending Olympic champions 13 years later.
Behind the arms of pitchers Lisa Fernandez, Jennie Finch and Cat Osterman, the United States squashed the competition in Greece, winning all nine of their games by a combined run total of 51-1. The lone run came in the penultimate inning of the gold medal game against Australia, with the U.S. comfortably ahead 5-0. U.S. designated hitter Crystl Bustos, nicknamed “The Big Bruiser”, bashed five home runs throughout the tournament, including two in the gold medal game, to lead the U.S. offense to a third-consecutive gold medal. The following year the IOC voted to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic program starting in 2012 to make room for new sports (though no new sports were added for the London Games).
After comfortably defeating Canada and Cuba to begin the tournament, the defending Olympic champions the United States fell into a nearly disastrous hitting slump. In consecutive games against Japan, China and Australia, the U.S. suffered three extra-innings losses, scoring a combined two runs over the three-game stretch. Wins against New Zealand and Italy in the last two round-robin games proved enough to secure the U.S. the final place in the knockout round. There, the Americans got their revenge on each of the three teams to beat them in pool play, knocking off China 3-0 in the semifinals, then Australia and Japan in a double-header on the last day of competition to secure a second-straight gold medal.
Four years after baseball’s debut as an Olympic medal event, softball joined the program in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics. The hosts were the overwhelming favorites, as the United States hadn’t lost in major international competition for a full decade prior to the Games. That streak ended with a 2-1 defeat to Australia in a preliminary game, but the Americans corrected course and captured the inaugural softball Olympic gold medal with a 3-1 victory over China in the final game. The win was not without controversy, though. In the top of the third with the game still scoreless, Yan Fang appeared to be just safe on a play at the plate to give China the lead but was called out by the home plate umpire who ruled that a tag was made in time. In the bottom of the inning, U.S. shortstop Dot Richardson hit a drive down the right-field line that wrapped around the foul pole as it landed over the fence. It was called – correctly, as video replay would reveal – a home run, though China protested the call for 10 minutes before play was resumed.