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Japan shock US to win softball gold

other Updated: Aug 21, 2008 23:00 IST

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Japan stunned the United States 3-1 on Thursday to claim Olympic softball gold, denying America a fourth straight title in a sport due to be dropped from the Games after Beijing.

It was the first time the United States failed to win the gold since softball was introduced in 1996, and their first defeat in 22 Olympic matches - a stretch dating back to Sydney 2000.

Instead they settled for silver, with Australia taking bronze.

Japan, semi-final losers to the United States, had reached the gold medal game with a dramatic, second-chance 4-3 12-inning victory over Australia in a final-round play-off game.

In two games Thursday, Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno threw a total of 21 innings, but she showed no ill effects as she played seven innings and got the win for Japan.

"My strong belief to win," was what carried her through the fatigue, Ueno said.

Eri Yamada homered in the fourth inning, giving Japan a 2-0 lead before a brief rain delay halted play.

Ayumi Karino's base hit in the third had scored Masumi Mishina to put Japan ahead, and Japan added another run in the top of the seventh.

Crystl Bustos's homer in the bottom of the fourth was the lone US run.

US dominance of the sport has been fingered as one reason softball has been dropped for London 2012, but backers of the game are still hoping it will be reinstated eventually.

Japanese coach Haruka Saito said the upset could add impetus to the "Back Softball" campaign to bring it back.

"It is a big encouragement and motivation for us to get softball back into the Olympic Games," she said. "We will promote it all over the world, every corner of the world."

Yamada said the win, which came after an extra-innings loss to the United States in the semis and the win over Australia, showed softball was a worthy Olympic sport.

"The world needs to know softball is a really good game," she said. "Our winning is the first step to help Back Softball. We are very glad we made it."