Tokyo – The first competition of the Games began with a ball and ended with a home run.
Leadoff hitter for the Australian softball team Michelle Cox took a low pitch from Japan pitcher Yukiko Ueno at an empty stadium in Fukushima on Wednesday in the first competitive act of the Tokyo Olympics.
The pitch – after pregame pageantry that included the introduction of several officials and dignitaries – officially kicked off a version of the games that were years in the making and delayed by a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
It was also the last offensive draw for Australia. Japan responded with a run of their own at the bottom of the first, two in the third and three in the fourth. And when Yu Yamamoto hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, Japan’s lead was 8-1 and mercy rule was applied, game ouver.
The game, two days before the opening ceremony, was the first of three in softball and half a dozen in soccer that had previously seen athletes field at the Games. Japan and Australia got the honor of going first; Their game at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium was to be followed by a matchup between the United States and Italy and Mexico and Canada.
Later on Wednesday, the women’s football tournament was to begin with six matches, including the United States’ opener against Sweden, at Tokyo Stadium.
It is not unusual for Olympic competition to start before the opening ceremony, the result of a tight schedule and extended tournaments that may require longer than the Games’ official 17-day window to complete.
Cox, the first batsman, made the most of his moment in the Olympic spotlight: He made the full count against Ueno and then smacked an infield single off the pitcher.
Ueno, who opened Japan, had a poor innings. After giving a single to Cox, she walked a batter and hit the next two off the pitches. This allowed Cox to score the game – and the games’ – first run.
But the hosts’ early nerves soon vanished, and they continued to drift away until, with one swing, Yamamoto sealed their victory.