1996 Summer Olympics

LOCATION: Columbus, Georgia (USA)
DATES: July 21-30, 1996
PARTICIPATING COUNTRIES (8): Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States

ROUND ROBIN SCORES

Teams
USA
CHN
AUS
JPN
CAN
TPE
NED
PUR

United States

x
3-2
1-2
6-1
4-2
4-0
9-0
10-0
China
2-3
x
6-0
0-3
2-1
1-0
8-0
10-0
Australia
2-1
0-6
x
10-0
5-2
4-0
1-0
0-2
Japan
1-6
3-0
0-10
x
5-2
4-0
1-0
0-2
Canada
2-4
1-2
2-5
0-4
x
2-1
4-1
4-0
Chinese Taipei
0-4
0-1
0-4
1-5
1-2
x
4-1
4-0
Netherlands
0-9
0-8
0-1
0-3
1-4
1-7
x
2-0
Puerto Rico
0-10
0-10
2-0
1-8
0-4
2-10
0-2
x

FINAL STANDINGS

    Games Runs  
Rank Team Played Won Lost For Against W/L% GB
1 USA 9 8 1 41 8 .888 0
2 China 10 6 4 34 13 .600 2.5
3 Australia 9 6 3 27 16 .666 2.0
4 Japan 8 5 3 24 21 .625 2.5
5 Canada 7 3 4 15 18 .428 4.0
6 Chinese Taipei 7 2 5 19 19 .285 5.0
7 Netherlands 7 1 6 32 32 .142 6.0
8 Puerto Rico 7 1 6 44 44 .142 6.0

Semi-Finals:      USA 1             China 0 (10 innings)
                        Australia 3        Japan 0
Final:                China 4            Australia 2
Grand Final:      USA 3             China 1

GOLD MEDAL: United States
SILVER MEDAL: China
BRONZE MEDAL: Australia

BATTING AVERAGE LEADERS

Rank
Name
Team
AB
H
HR
RBI
BA
1
Chika Kodama

JPN

21

11

1

1

0.524
2
Ya-Fen Want

CT

22

10

2

4

0.455
3
Dionna Harris

USA

22

9

0

1

0.409
4
Chungfang Zhang

CHN

33

13

1

3

0.394
5
Sheila Comell

USA

28

11

3

9

0.393
6
Emi Tsukada

JPN

18

7

1

2

0.389
7
Kerry Dienelt

AUS

22

8

3

6

0.364
8
Kelly Kelland

CAN

17

6

0

1

0.353
9
Lisa Fernandez

USA

23

8

1

5

0.348
10
Ou Ching Chieh
CT
15
5
1
6
0.333

AB – At-bats, H – hits, HR – Home Runs, RBI – Runs Batted In, BA – batting average

EARNED RUN AVERAGE LEADERS

Rank Name Team BF IP H R SO ER ERA
1 Tanya Harding AUS 66 22.2 10 1 19 0 0.00
2 Christa Williams USA 65 9.2 3 0 15 0 0.00
3 Jenny Holiday AUS 63 9.1 4 6 10 0 0.00
4 Lori Harrigan USA 49 7.0 2 0 5 0 0.00
5 He Liping CHN 48 4.0 0 0 5 0 0.00
6 Juri Takayma JPN 47 28.0 18 3 23 1 0.25
7 Lisa Fernandez USA 41 21.0 4 2 31 1 0.33
8 Lori Sippei CAN 29 20.0 9 3 10 2 0.70
9 Wang Lihong CHN 22 34.0 15 7 57 4 0.82
10 Melanie Roche AUS 83 25.1 14 7 36 3 0.83

IP – Innings Pitched, H – Hits, R – Runs, ER – Earned Runs, BB – Walks, SO – Strikeouts, ERA – Earned Run Average

 

Softball’s Finest Hour!
by: Ronald A. Babb

It was the shot heard around the world.

In the bottom of the third inning the USA’s Laura Berg was on. Her gaze focused intently on teammate Dot Richardson who was bouncing and stretching before stepping into the box to take her swings against Chinese pitcher Yaju Liu.

And then it came, a jolting right field rope that sent Chinese outfielder Qiang Wei scurrying to the fence in time to witness the ball slicing past her as it completed its destination into the stands and into history.

Berg and Richardson rounded the bases as the sound of a deafening chorus resonated from a raucous crowd of supporters who had waited hours, days and for some, decades to live this moment.

With arms raised in triumph they crossed the plate, Berg first, then Richardson. They were greeted by a swarming host of teammates who in an instant must have realized that their dreams too had been realized.

The Chinese never recovered and the USA went on to win the most important softball game of all-time 3-1 and permanently etch their names in history as the first to ever earn an Olympic gold medal.

The win punctuated the sport’s triumphant run to Olympic recognition. For softball the road to the Olympics spanned more than 29 years from the birth of the dream in 1965 to its debut in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. The sport’s Olympic debut was without a doubt the most anticipated and defining moment in the history of the sport.

The USA entered the event as a heavy favorite for the gold. With an impressive 110-1 record in international play since 1986 and three consecutive World Championship titles to their credit, few seemed unconvinced of the USA’s position as heir apparent to the gold. The USA found themselves in the position of proving to an assembled world audience that they were indeed worthy of the collective praise they were receiving.

The USA understood going in that the Olympics would not be a walkover for them. China had already chinked the team’s armor at the pre-Olympic event last August, inflicting on them their only defeat (1-0) in a decade. The eight teams that assembled for the Games also understood that the winner would be determined by actions between the chalk lines and not through historical reference.

But still, the USA remained the USA. Three consecutive World Championships, three consecutive Pan American Games gold medals and a string of a dozen international titles over the past decade must stand for something.

The USA played up to their billing in their first four games rolling to lopsided wins over Puerto Rico (10-0); the Netherlands (9-0); Japan (4-1); and Chinese Taipei (4-0). The USA’s 29-1 collective margin of victory in the first quartet of competition dissuaded few that the USA was a lock for the gold.

But for the USA fans there were some heartpounding moments. In game five, the USA mystique was not a factor against a talented Canadian squad. It was not until Dot Richardson produced a RBI double in the seventh that the USA finally put away the scrappy Canucks 4-2.

Enter drama and controversy. In the USA’s sixth game against Australia, pitcher Lisa Fernandez delivered nine innings of perfection. And, had it not been for a fifth inning foo-pah by teammate Dani Tyler who negated her own home run when she failed to step on home plate, the game would have been over in regulation and Fernandez would have recorded the first perfect game in Olympic history. It was not to be. The USA was jolted by their only defeat of the Games when Joanne Brown of Australia took the final pitch of a 10-inning ball game over the center field fence.

Despite the second guessing that occurs after any defeat, the USA remained confident in their ability to reassert itself as favorite and responded with three consecutive wins over China to take the gold.

Despite the USA’s eventual victory, the 1996 Games will be remembered as a coming of age for the sport and its field of world class athletes. The USA’s margin of victory in its final five games was two runs or less and included a stinging 2-1 upset at the hands of Australia.

There were many who mounted major challenges for the medals including Japan who finished fourth and posted impressive wins over the Netherlands (3-0), Canada (4-0), Puerto Rico (8-1), Chinese Taipei (5-1) and a jolting upset of silver medallist China (3-0).

Australia remained an international force responding from a tough start which saw them fall to China (6-0) and Puerto Rico (2-0) before mounting their own challenge with wins over Chinese Taipei (4-0), the Netherlands (1-0), Japan (10-0) and Canada (5-2) before delivering perhaps the biggest upset of the Games against the USA (2-1). Australia followed with a 3-0 win over Japan in the semi-finals before losing to China 4-2 to take the bronze.

Enter China, the challenge from the East was back and once again only a blink away from the number one spot in the world. China was impressive early and throughout pounding out wins against Australia (6-0), Chinese Taipei (4-0), Canada (2-1), Puerto Rico (10-0), Netherlands (8-0) and Chinese Taipei (1-0) before eliminating Australia in the bronze medal game to advance to the final against the USA. Despite losing to the USA in three consecutive contests (3-2, 1-0, 3-1), China demonstrated it now has the tools, not just the resolve, to challenge the Americans for softball supremacy.

Every team in the Olympic field took home something to build upon for the future. For the Netherlands it was a Game 26 win over Puerto Rico (2-0) and for Puerto Rico a major upset against bronze medallist Australia (2-0). These were important wins for their budding programs and testaments of how far the sport may someday take them.

The competition was filled with expectation, after all if you wait for anything for days, months…29 years, there is a lot of anticipated payback. But, softball for the most part managed to take the moment from expectation to realization.

Capacity audiences at each contest created an electric atmosphere rightly befitting the significance of the moment. By the medal rounds, softball had become one of the hottest tickets at the Games with streets lined with ticket seekers salivating at the prospect of becoming part of this historic Olympic moment. One such ticket hopeful positioned himself at the gates attempting to trade his basketball “Dream Team” tickets even-up for softball tickets. “I’ve seen the ‘Dream Team’ and it was boring. I want to see what a real Olympic dream is all about,” he said.

A national and international TV audience watched with anticipation each evening’s recap while hundreds jammed NBC phone lines pleading for more. Millions read about the competition in the headlines of their local newspaper. Even NBC’s programming head Dick Ebersol admitted that the network underestimated the sport’s appeal.

A recent study produced by a media research group noted that over 4,000 articles had been written in the U.S. alone about the sport’s debut making it clearly one of the media favorites in the 1996 Games. Not a bad start for a debut sport whose venue was located 105 miles from the “Olympic Ring” in Atlanta. One writer expressed it best when he stated that softball had exemplified the spirit of the Olympics and caught the vision and respect of the world.

The Olympics marshaled in a new era for the sport of softball, a progression from the past into what may unfold for the future. For aspiring softball Olympians around the world that future will be Sydney, Australia and the 2000 Games.

When the trumpets summon the heroes of the 2000 Games, softball’s best will be ready to respond.

(This article appeared in the September 1996 edition of World Softball magazine.)

 

 

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