Slugger Stacey Porter: Australia gunning for their first Olympic gold medal in softball at Tokyo 2020

Slugger Stacey Porter: Australia gunning for their first Olympic gold medal in softball at Tokyo 2020
The captain of the Australian Women’s National Softball Team recently spoke with Tokyo 2020 organizers about her squad's chances at next year’s Olympics.

Stacey Porter, one of the most feared softball hitters in the world over the last two decades, has strong credentials to speak about Olympic softball and the sport's place on the world stage: she’s a two-time Olympic medallist, and will be suiting for the Australian Olympic Softball Team next year.

"Competing at an Olympics is like no other experience, it's a worldwide event with so much hype around it," she stated during an interview with Tokyo 2020. "You really have to find a balance of not getting caught up in all that hype, performing on the biggest stage and staying focused on your job."

Porter made her Olympic debut in Athens 2004, as a 22-year-old. "In 2004, I found it easy to go out and perform, I was young, free and didn’t have high expectations to make an impact. I just didn’t allow myself to get caught up in performance." She hit .250 for the tournament with two home runs (tied for second place in the tournament) and six RBI (third overall). Australia reached the gold medal game, but lost 5-1 to USA. Porter went 2-for-3 against Lisa Fernandez and batted-in her team’s lone run in the final (coincidentally, the only run USA allowed in the entire competition).

Four years later, in Beijing, Australia felt short of the final, claiming the bronze medal, the country’s fourth Olympic softball medal in a row, and second for Porter. "2008 was a very different experience...I was older and more impactful within the team. I think [it] got into my head a lot, and I didn’t perform the way I wanted to. It was still one of the best experiences I’ve had playing softball, it was just a lot harder than Athens." The infielder hit only .136 in Beijing.

After the 2008 Summer Games, softball was not included in the next two Olympics, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Porter's initial thoughts were with all the "young girls back in Australia who might miss out" on a chance to compete at the Olympics. "I also felt [bad] for softball in general, the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of sport and I knew the development of our game would be impacted," she added.

But Porter hasn't found it hard to keep herself motivated, especially representing Australia at the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship, winning three bronzes in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

"I play with fire in my belly, so any chance I got to step onto a diamond was going to keep me motivated," she said. "I will always be grateful for this amazing opportunity for me to continue my career. This [the WBSC Women’s Softball World Championship] created so many opportunities for us to continue to play the game."

With softball’s historic return to the Olympics, and Australia having qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Games, Porter is aiming to grab her third Olympic medal. She also says the power of the Olympic brand will help the sport of softball to globalise further.

"It's important because being recognised as an Olympic sport means more funding and this creates programmes and opportunities for the growth and development of our sport," Porter told Tokyo 2020. "Plus it gives our younger generation a real dream to aim for."

Softball to open the Tokyo 2020 Games

Australia will face Japan on 21 July, in the first official sports competition of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. "I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the Games!" said Porter, who played for SGH Galaxy Stars in the 2020 Japanese Softball League season.

"We’re going into this Olympics prepared for every team and I think to get the host nation and reigning Olympic champions straight off the bat will be a great opportunity for us. It's a quick and punchy tournament, I’m happy to face Japan day one."

Australia will try to win their first softball gold medal in softball history.

"Sometimes it's hard to do something you have never done, but I think with this group of girls and the work we have been doing at home in the off season, both on and off the diamond, we are right on track to winning gold," she said.

"It starts with belief and when a group of people wholeheartedly believe the same, it’s a very powerful thing. This group has that belief."