Host City: Beijing, China
Venue(s): Fengtai Sports Center Softball Field, Beijing
Date Started: August 12, 2008
Date Finished: August 21, 2008
Format: Round-robin tournament, with the top four teams progressing to classification round.
Softball had been on the Olympic Program since 1996 and had been dominated by the United States’ teams. Since 1970 the US had won every World Championship except in 1982, when New Zealand triumphed, and they had been undefeated in international tournaments since that defeat. At the Olympics, the US had won all three of the previous gold medals. In 1996 and 2004 they had been unchallenged, winning every game, and in 2004, it had reached almost laughable proportions, winning nine games by a total score of 51-1. In 2000, they had struggled somewhat, losing three games in pool play, but had still recovered to win the gold medal.
In 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) began an investigation into the sports on the Olympic Program. Several new sports, including golf, rugby sevens, and karate, were attempting to get onto the Olympic Program and the IOC wanted to keep the program stable in terms of number of sports. If it was going to add any new sports, some older sports would have to be removed from the Olympics. Baseball was felt to be at risk to be removed, because of doping problems in the American professional leagues, because the top American professionals from Major League Baseball did not play in the Olympics, the relatively high cost of constructing a baseball stadium that would not be used in many countries, the relatively few number of nations that competed internationally at a high level, and since – all criteria the IOC considered important. Softball was felt to be safe – the top players all over the world competed, there had been no doping scandals, Olympic softball was the biggest title in the sport, and further, as a female-only sport, it helped maintain gender balance in the program. But when the IOC met to reconsider the Olympic Program, an unusual thing happened. No sports were added to the Olympic Program but two were to be removed – baseball and softball. In the end it was felt that softball was lumped in with baseball, and cast out with that sport because of the problems with baseball. The only problem that softball had was that it was dominated by one nation, and that nation happened to be the United States, which had little support from the IOC at that time. After multiple appeals, it was finally decided in August 2009 at an IOC Executive Board meeting that softball (and baseball) were off the Olympic Program after the 2008 Olympics.
So Beijing was to be the final Olympic softball tournament. And it started out as they all had – with the US team winning easily. In round-robin play, the USA played seven games, and won seven games, and the margin was even more than in Athina – they won by a combined score of 53-1. In the semi-finals the United States defeated Japan, 4-1, after beating them 7-0 in pool play. Japan then advanced to the grand final against the US by defeating Australia, 4-3 in 12 innings. And in the grand final, something unusual happened – Japan won the gold medal by defeating the US 3-1. The Japanese were exultant while the American players looked lost – they had no conception of how to react to losing.