By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – Cat Osterman does not wake up every morning in a cold sweat thinking about the gold medal the United States women’s softball team lost 11 years ago at the Beijing Olympics but then again she has never forgotten about it either.
As the U.S. celebrated a win over Canada in the Pan Am Games gold medal contest on Saturday, Osterman insisted she is not haunted or driven by the past.
Yet Japan’s stunning 3-1 upset of the heavily favoured Americans more than a decade ago is inexorably linked to Osterman’s future plans — a long awaited rematch at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
“Not trying to look too far ahead but obvious that end result would be really sweet,” a smiling Osterman told Reuters.
“It is not something I wake up in the morning and remind myself of every day but it’s there.
“Honestly, there is still part of me that still carries the silver from Beijing with me but it’s not the main part obviously I would hope to go home from 2020 with a gold instead of ending a career on a silver but that’s not the driving force.”
Japan’s shock victory still ranks as one of the Olympics great upsets.
Since softball was introduced in 1996 at the Atlanta Games, the Americans had ruled supreme over the Olympic diamond, no other country having set foot on the top perch of the podium.
The U.S. roared into the Beijing gold medal game unbeaten in 22 Olympic contests, a streak of dominance stretching all the way back to the 2000 Sydney Games.
Then Japan threw the Americans an unexpected curve ball.
After dealing with the shock of a crushing defeat athletes are hard-wired to quickly reboot and focus on the next game, the next chance for revenge. The next Olympics.
Except in this case there was no next Olympics.
That contest was the last played at the Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having retooled its roster of sports with softball failing to make the cut.
Japan has basked in the golden glow of that victory for 11 years. Osterman and her team mates have had to live with the agony of defeat compounded by being denied an opportunity to correct the record — until now.
Softball immediately began a campaign to get back into the Games and after much lobbying will make a comeback at the 2020 Olympics — in a country where it is hugely popular — after organisers requested its inclusion under new rules.
While softball’s extended future as an Olympic sport is not yet assured, the U.S. will have an opportunity for that long awaited chance to settle an old score.
USA softball will name the roster in October and both Osterman and her 2008 team mate Monica Abbott are expected to make it, giving a young squad veteran experience and a reminder of a loss that some of them are not old enough to remember.
“When we didn’t get back in 2016 the doubt was we would never get back in,” said Osterman. “As a professional athlete I just stayed the course until 2015 and when we were still not back in the Games it was time to hang it up in my opinion.
“In 08 it was our last game as far as I we could see.”
While most of her team mates have long ago retired the 36-year-old pitcher stayed in the game, first playing in the profession league in the United States and then as a coach
In 2017 Osterman decided to dust off her cleats and try to make a comeback.
She can still bring the heat, as demonstrated by a 13 strikeout performance in a preliminary round game against Puerto Rico.
“There’s just part of me that thought it was almost my responsibility if I could still throw to come back to this programme and give it one more shot and see what we could do,” said Osterman, who has one gold medal from the Athens Olympics.
“The driving force was I felt like I could still throw well enough to help this programme the best it can be in 2020 so I got back in shape and gave it a go.
“As far as on a daily basis I am not really thinking about it (Olympics) right now, I’m still in the process of getting back into the games.
“I did take almost three and a half years off so just getting use to dealing with emotions and adrenaline and all that again.
“It’s a work in progress.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)