Millions of fans all over the world were shocked to see that the Japanese softball team had defeated the Americans in the gold medal game last week but Dr. Dot Richardson wasn't one of them. The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been trying to tell people for years that softball was a lot more competitive than critics gave it credit for. "But because we'd win, people wouldn't see the intricacies of the game to see how close it was." Richardson told me last week on the phone after the Olympic tournament had finished. "(The competitive balance has) always been there."
Like so many other American softball fans, Richardson spent the better part of the last three weeks re-arranging her schedule so that she could follow the U.S. team in Beijing. Sure, she was disappointed that the Americans didn't win, but unlike many, she wasn't stunned. "I'm not surprised it was a great game, Richardson said. "I was surprised at our mistakes"
Richardson, who worked as an analyst for NBC at the 2004 Games, had seen first-hand how good the Japanese were. Even then she could see the strategy that the Japanese were trying to use. "Japan decided to rest Ueno against Australia (in the semifinals in '04) ... but they lost to Australia with their second string pitcher so they never got a chance to come back in the gold medal game ... even then I thought that was a big mistake to not get to that gold medal game with your best."
Richardson knew that the Japanese were going to learn from their mistakes. "When I went to bed (before the gold medal game last week) I was thinking Ueno is going to be exhausted, but then I thought you know what it's the Olympic Games, there's this huge sense of pride that all of us have in our country."
That's why Japan wasn't about to take any chances this time around, allowing Ueno to pitch the last 28 innings of the tournament, leading the country to its first Olympic Softball gold medal. Japan's win proved to everybody what Richardson has been trying to tell people for years: The Americans aren't the only country that can play world-class softball. "I think what this game really shows the world is the parity if you would, of the top five teams in softball."
Of course, it does seem rather ironic that Japan delivered this message during the final game of the Olympic tournament. As everyone knows by now, softball and baseball have been eliminated as Olympic sports and will not be played at the 2012 Games in London. It's a blow that the softball community is still coming to grips with. "The dropping of softball and baseball from the Olympics was a huge wake up call," Richardson said.
It's a wake up call that she believes can actually make the sport's future much brighter. Richardson thinks that in order to put softball back on the map in the States, players must be able to showcase their talents on a larger stage. "We have got to develop a professional level in our sport," Richardson said. "Every single one of those Japan players were professionals ... If we are going to challenge Japan with their pros, we need to develop a professional level that America gets behind."
That's why Richardson has helped create the Pro Fast Pitch X-treme Tour which she thinks will give American players a better chance to showcase their skills. "It's a player clinic and a coaches' clinic," she said.
National Pro FastPitch is another pro league, which already exists in the States, but Richardson seems confident that her league can succeed above all others because the business model is much different. The PFX Tour gives professional players (including several Olympians) an opportunity to utilize their talents. At the same time the Tour allows them to encourage young girls to excel and raise their level of play. The Tour, which travels from city to city, makes its first post-Olympic stop in McKinney, Texas on September 5th. "Our pros need to be the face of the sport ... we need to get at that level and that's what I've committed myself to do."
Richardson is committed to many things these days. When she isn't busy working as the commissioner of PFX Tour, she serves as the director/medical director of the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida which is outside of Orlando. It's safe to say she has stayed busy since retiring from competitive softball in 2005. It's clear when you speak to her though that her passion for the game is stronger than ever. She believes that softball will be back in the Games soon, and last week's gold medal game will be one of the reasons why. "I believe softball and baseball will be reinstated into the Olympics," Richardson said. "And because of this defeat, or I should say because of the victory of Japan, I think the odds are swayed more in favor of (softball) getting (back) into the Olympics."
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