Banner Day For U.S. Women's Teams In Beijing

Day 13 brings the U.S. softball team's gold-medal game and important contests for American women in soccer, volleyball and water polo. But it isn't all good news: The softball team, aiming for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal, had to settle for silver after an upset loss to Japan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The US Women's softball team was aiming for a fourth straight gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, and today they had to settle for silver, instead. Japan beat them three to one. NPR's Tom Goldman is in Beijing and covering this story. And Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom. A few hours ago, you told us that this was the New York Yankees of softball. What happened?

TOM GOLDMAN: Well, they kind of are the New York Yankees, who haven't won a World Series for a long time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Oh, no.

GOLDMAN: Big sorry, New York. A big, big shocker, here. These guys were overwhelming favorites, having won all three of the Olympic competitions since softball started in the Olympic Games in 1996. They came into this game, having outscored their opponents in Beijing 57 runs to two. They were undefeated. I mean, how could this happen? No one really knows. But Japan just jumped all over, and they got the timely hits when they had to. Their pitcher Yukiko Ueno was just dominant, and she got herself out of a couple of real tough jams, where the US loaded the bases with runners, with one out that they couldn't squeeze over a run in those situations. It was due, in large part, to Ueno.

INSKEEP: And they can't even say we'll back and get you in 2012.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Right you are. That's the sad thing, here. Softball is off the program in 2012. The IOC voted in 2005 to kick softball out. One of the reasons that people say why that happened is because of the US dominance. Well, I guess that's not the case anymore. Unfortunately, for the Americans, they did their best to show that this is, indeed, a world game.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit more about some other women's sports. I'm following the instructions of our friends here at the New York Times, who are live blogging the gold medal soccer. US: zero, Brazil: zero. What's happening there?

GOLDMAN: It's a thriller. Nil, nil, as they say here. But I guess in America, we say zero, zero. About 10 minutes left in regulation, a hard-fought game, no scores yet. This is a real grudge match between these two teams. Brazil beat the US in the World Cup last year four to nothing. That was a real bitter defeat for the US. And Brazil wants to avenge its loss to the US in the last Olympic finals. So they're down to the last 10 minutes of regulation, then we may go to some overtime and crazy penalty kicks.

INSKEEP: Tom Goldman in Beijing, I want to ask about another women's sport, if I might. I can't remember any time that I've ever seen so much women's volleyball on TV.

GOLDMAN: It's a tremendous amount. And we saw a lot today in - we had both beach volleyball and indoor volleyball going on, and it was pretty successful for the US. The beach volleyball juggernaut of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh won their second straight gold medal against a Chinese duo. And they've been just unbeatable, really. And then indoors, they US women's volleyball team got revenge against a Cuban team that beat the Americans earlier in the games, and America is in its first gold medal game since 1984.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should mention, for those who haven't seen any of these volleyball matches, especially the indoor, it's brutal. This is fierce competition.

GOLDMAN: It really is. It's a really exciting game, and it's too bad that it doesn't get more play in the US. You know, we have to see it basically once every four years. It's a brutal game. It's very athletic. People are flying above the net, spiking the ball. It's great fun.

INSKEEP: Tom, we've just got a couple of seconds left, here, but I do want do mention we do get letters from people saying why are spoiling it for me by saying the results of the soccer match, for example, before I get to see it on TV?

GOLDMAN: Here's a suggestion: Send those angry letters to NBC, which tape-delays the action and shows it in primetime and creates this impression among viewers that the Olympics are a primetime event. It's not. It happens all day long. We cover it in real time. Sorry.

INSKEEP: Okay. The latest news, live, from NPR's Tom Goldman in Beijing. Tom, good to talk with you, as always. And, again, the women's softball team lost out on the gold today. This is NPR News.

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U.S. Softball Streak Ends, Beach Volleyball Continues

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh celebrate their Olympic gold medal victory over China. i i

hide captionAmericans Misty May-Treanor (left) and Kerri Walsh celebrate their Olympic gold medal victory over China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie in women's beach volleyball in Beijing.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh celebrate their Olympic gold medal victory over China.

Americans Misty May-Treanor (left) and Kerri Walsh celebrate their Olympic gold medal victory over China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie in women's beach volleyball in Beijing.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Full Olympics Coverage

U.S. softball players Andrea Duran, Jennie Finch and Caitlin Lowe react to their team's loss. i i

hide captionAndrea Duran (from left), Jennie Finch and Caitlin Lowe of the United States prepare to receive their silver medals after their team lost, 3-1, to Japan during the women's final medal softball game in Beijing.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
U.S. softball players Andrea Duran, Jennie Finch and Caitlin Lowe react to their team's loss.

Andrea Duran (from left), Jennie Finch and Caitlin Lowe of the United States prepare to receive their silver medals after their team lost, 3-1, to Japan during the women's final medal softball game in Beijing.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Competing For Gold

Such is life. Hot on the heels of the U.S. gold-medal success in women's beach volleyball at the Summer Olympics on Thursday, the American softball team saw its golden dreams turn to silver, losing 3-1 to Japan.

But even later in the day, the defending champion U.S. women's soccer team won the gold medal for the third time in four Olympics, beating Brazil, 1-0 in overtime.

The American streaks of three softball golds and 22 victories in a row were snapped as Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno handed the U.S. women their first loss since the 2000 Sydney Games.

It's the sport's final appearance in the games for at least eight years. The International Olympic Committee voted softball off the 2012 program in London, but proponents of the sport hope it will be reinstated next year in time for the 2016 games.

On the upside, U.S. beach volleyball pop-cult phenoms Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor outspiked China's Wang Jie and Tian Jia 21-18, 21-18, in Thursday's gold medal final.

The sandy triumph was notable because:

• The contest was between the two dominant countries of the games.

• Beach volleyball is a relatively new Olympic sport that, unlike the shot put or the parallel bars, is usually played on sunny beaches by scantily clad, beery-eyed weekend jocks.

• The final match featured amazing female athletes, self-sure and self-deprecating at the same time. Walsh and May-Treanor have won two gold medals in a row.

• At the Day 13 event, there was rock music and a shimmying cheer squad that might have made ancient Olympians do a Fosbury flop in their graves.

• The game was played in a difficult 21st century environment — a smoggy Beijing rain.

"The rain makes it better. We felt like warriors out there," Walsh told The Associated Press after the event.

The downpour "is just another reason why we play in bathing suits," May-Treanor said.

In women's volleyball (the indoor variety), the U.S. beat Cuba, 3-0, in a semifinals match. The Americans will play for gold Saturday against Brazil, which topped China, also 3-0.

In women's soccer, Carli Lloyd scored in the sixth minute of extra time for the Americans, who beat the Brazilians for a second straight Olympic final. Earlier, world champion Germany defeated Japan 2-0 in the bronze medal game.

Water, Water Everywhere

In other Olympic results: Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands nabbed the gold in the men's marathon 10-kilometer swim. In women's water polo, Australia outlasted Hungary, 12-11, to win a bronze medal. In celebration, Australian coach Greg McFadden leapt into the pool with his players.

Russian racewalker Olga Kaniskina also endured the drenching rain to win the gold medal in the 20-kilometer event. In women's team handball, China swept past Sweden 20-19, and France beat Romania 36-34.

Controversy du jour: Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, objected to the taunting, NBA-style antics of Jamaican supersprinter Usain Bolt. Rogge said that Bolt dissed his fellow competitors by showboating while winning gold medals and setting world records in the 100- and 200-meter races. "That's not the way we perceive being a champion," Rogge told the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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