Yukiko Ueno: Olympics is a major platform and inspiration for softball

Yukiko Ueno: Olympics is a major platform and inspiration for softball
"Whether softball is on the Olympic programme or not makes a big difference," Ueno said during the second part of an interview with the legendary two-time softball Olympic gold medallist.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist and softball world champion Yukiko Ueno has had many highs and lows throughout her career but one of the biggest highlights was the perfect game the right handed pitcher threw against China on her way to a bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

Ueno, who received the Order of the Golden Diamond at the WBSC Congress 2022 in Taiwan for her exploits in softball, is the first and only player to have pitched a seven-inning perfect game in the history of Olympic softball. 

"To be honest, I was very eager and didn't even think I could achieve a perfect game on this stage," Ueno told the WBSC. "It wasn't the pressure of holding the opponent back, but the desire to hold them back, and the desperation of not being able to drag everyone down."

Ueno said she felt like just one of the players. "At that time, I wanted to help the team as one of the 15 players rather than as an ace. The team was made up of many veteran players."

After the 2004 Olympics, Ueno was seen as a star however, as she explains, this didn't make her life easier. "At the Beijing Olympics, I was under such pressure that I would lose if I gave up a hit. The four-year cycle after Athens was the most difficult part of my softball career. Sometimes I wondered why I had to train so hard."

Despite the pressure, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games still remains a special memory for Ueno as she led Japan to its first Olympic softball gold medal, beating rivals USA in the final.

"I think it was the biggest stage for me. I was throwing the ball with my body and decided that I could have ended my softball career. It was as if I was asking God to let me throw this game until the end, even if I would never be able to throw a ball again."

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) removed softball from the Olympic programme, starting from the London 2012 Olympic Games, Ueno took the news and new reality hard with coach Reika Utsugi advising her not to quit and encouraged her to play through the difficult time. "It was a pain coming from the feeling of having lost everything. I was feeling a sense of emptiness.

"Whether softball is on the Olympic programme or not makes a big difference," Ueno said, referring to how the Olympics provides more opportunities and goals for aspiring athletes. "Before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we could encourage the children to practice hard to become Olympic athletes. The more I lived those moments when children's eyes sparkled, the more I realized the Olympic stage is a major platform for softball."

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In the first part of the interview with Ueno, the 40-year-old legend spoke about the heart breaking loss in the Women’s Softball World Championship final in 2018 and how winning the Tokyo 2020 gold medal was her way to thank head coach Reika Utsugi, who was there for her in the most challenging time.