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OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

After 13-year absence, United States and Japan to square off for Olympic softball gold again

Kelsey Stewart celebrates her walkoff home run to give the United States a victory over Japan in pool play Monday.
Kelsey Stewart celebrates her walkoff home run to give the United States a victory over Japan in pool play Monday.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

If the previous contests are any indication of what is to come, Tuesday’s gold medal game between the United States and Japan is likely to be another classic between the best two softball teams in the world.

The United States’ 2-1 win over Japan at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on Monday, their final game of round-robin play, didn’t matter much because both teams had already secured their spots in the gold medal game. And the three best pitchers in tournament either barely pitched (Monica Abbott and Cat Osterman of the United States) or not at all (Yukiko Ueno of Japan). Still, the contest showed once again that the two rivals were closely matched.

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The last time the teams faced off for a gold medal was in 2008, when Ueno led Japan in a stunning 3-1 upset of the United States, which was seeking its fourth straight top prize. So it was only fitting that after the sport was absent for 13 years from the Olympics, it would return with the very same teams and some of the same cast of characters.

“It’s crazy,” US outfielder Janie Reed said. “It just shows how talented those pitchers are to still be at the top of their game, 13 years later. So hats off to them. But there is also some nostalgia, and it’s really exciting to get to be a part of it.”

Ueno has carried Japan’s pitching staff throughout the Tokyo tournament and figures to be in the circle Tuesday. In 2008, she tossed 413 pitches in three games over the final two days, including outdueling Osterman and Abbott in the gold medal final.

“She’s experienced, but so are we,” center fielder Haylie McCleney, the United States’ best hitter this tournament, said of Ueno. “We’re ready. We figured we would have this matchup, so we’re excited. It’s going to be a good game tomorrow, and everybody should tune in and watch.”

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So far, the United States has struggled to score runs at the same pace as Japan. The US won all five of its round-robin games by two runs or fewer, outscoring their opponents 9-2. Japan, though, led by Yamato Fujita, outscored its opponents 18-5 but went 4-1.

“I know there are fans back home grumbling about the offense,” Osterman said, “but the truth is this is a competitive game internationally, and blowouts are not happening anymore.”

Monday was the latest taut matchup. After pitcher Ally Carda coughed up a first-inning run, the United States rallied in the sixth to tie the score. Kelsey Stewart smacked the walkoff blast in the bottom of the next frame. She threw her arms up in the air as she rounded the bases, while her teammates bounced up and down and head coach Ken Eriksen hugged his assistants.

“It was like something you dream about as a little kid: a home run at the Olympics, let alone a walkoff,” Stewart said.

After the victory, Carda, who struck out nine batters, said that even though Monday was just another game, it was useful for further scouting out their rival. “And really, it is just fun,” she added. “We’re both very competitive teams.”

Flora Duffy won the women's triathlon to give Bermuda its first-ever gold medal.
Flora Duffy won the women's triathlon to give Bermuda its first-ever gold medal.David Goldman/Associated Press

Duffy wins triathlon to give Bermuda first-ever gold

Bermuda has been sending athletes to the Olympics since 1936. Until Tuesday, the Atlantic island’s highest honor was a bronze medal won 45 years ago.

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Flora Duffy changed that in just under two hours, swimming, cycling and running through the wind and rain around Tokyo Bay to win the Olympic women’s triathlon for Bermuda’s first gold medal.

A self-governing British overseas territory with a population under 65,000, Bermuda has only two athletes competing in Tokyo: Duffy and men’s rower Dara Alizadeh. It is the smallest contingent Bermuda has ever sent to the Summer Games.

Bermuda hadn’t medaled at the Olympics since Clarence Hill’s bronze in heavyweight boxing in Montreal in 1976.

“I think [the medal] is bigger than me. It’s going to inspire the youth of Bermuda and everyone back home that competing on the world stage from a small island is really possible,” said Duffy, a Bermuda native who grew up there.

Duffy, 33, had never finished higher than eighth in her previous three Olympic tries. But the two-time former world triathlon series champion was one of the favorites for gold and was among the leaders Tuesday for the entire race. She closed out the victory with a dominant final leg to finish in 1 hour, 55:36 minutes.

Duffy pumped her arms over her head as she hit the final 50 meters to the finish line, then held her head in her hands as she pushed through the victory banner and collapsed. She got up to cheer on her competitors.

“I tried to just keep my composure and not allow my mind to drift to the fact that this was really happening until about the last kilometer of the run,” Duffy said. “I saw my husband — he’s my coach — on the side of the road and just gave him a little smile. From there I just sort of allowed all the emotions to come.”

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Georgia Taylor-Brown of Britain, who got a tire puncture near the end of the cycling stage but rode through it, finished more than a minute behind. American Katie Zaferes was third.

Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old from Japan, won gold in the inaugural women's street skateboarding finals.
Momiji Nishiya, a 13-year-old from Japan, won gold in the inaugural women's street skateboarding finals.Ben Curtis/Associated Press

A youth movement in women’s skateboarding

Momiji Nishiya, 13, of Japan won the debut Olympic skateboarding event for women, giving the host nation a sweep of golds in the street event after Yuto Horigome won the men’s event.

The silver went to Rayssa Leal, also 13 — Brazil’s second silver in skateboarding after Kelvin Hoefler finished second Sunday in the men’s event. The women’s bronze went to Funa Nakayama of Japan.

The event was celebrated as a win for women by many of the 20 competitors.

“It’s going to change the whole game,” US skater Mariah Duran said. “This is like opening at least one door to, you know, many skaters who are having the conversations with their parents, who want to start skating.

“I’m not surprised if there’s probably already like 500 girls getting a board today.”

No win, but Argentine fencer says ‘yes’ to proposal

For Argentine fencer Maria Belen Perez Maurice, the sting of an Olympic defeat was quickly parried by a stroke of love.

Perez Maurice had just been beaten in the women’s saber when her longtime coach and partner, Lucas Guillermo Saucedo, turned the loss into a surprise marriage proposal.

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While Perez Maurice was speaking to reporters, Saucedo held up a handwritten note asking “Do you want to marry me” in Spanish. She accepted.

“They [the press] told me to turn around and he had the letter. I forgot everything. I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” she said. “We are very happy. We are very good partners. Of course, we have fights, but we enjoy each other’s time. We love each other so much, and we want to spend our lives together. We are going to celebrate in Buenos Aires with a big barbecue.”

Saucedo said he might have waited to pop the question had Perez Maurice beaten Anna Marton of Hungary. Instead, he felt the time was right.

“I love her, and when she lost the match she got very sad, so maybe this proposal should change her mentality,” he said. “I wrote on the paper in the moment. If she had won, no, I would have waited for the moment.”

Stephanie Gilmore of Australia reacts after being upset in her women's surfing Round 3 heat.
Stephanie Gilmore of Australia reacts after being upset in her women's surfing Round 3 heat.Ryan Pierse/Getty

After surfing upset, more turbulence ahead from typhoon

As a brewing storm stirred up the waves during day two of surfing’s historic Olympic debut, there was a collapse of the favorites with some of the sport’s biggest stars failing to make their mark.

The second day of competition at Tsurigasaki beach in Ichinomiya, about 60 miles east of Tokyo, began with a stunning upset in the first heat in the women’s contest. Venerated Australian Stephanie Gilmore was eliminated by the 17th-ranked Bianca Buitendag of South Africa.

Gilmore, 33, is the most decorated surfer competing at these Games, and she had won the first day of Olympic competition with the highest ride and heat score.

The surf conditions were better Monday, as surfers were gifted 6-to-7-foot waves that were twice as good as the day before because of a predicted typhoon in the region whose effects should be felt in Japan on Tuesday. The conditions should set the stage yet again for an explosive air show during the third day of competition.

Whether it’ll have the same choppy winds as Monday is unknown but it proved to be a challenge for some surfers in Day 2.

Reigning world champion Carissa Moore, 28, did win her heat but has struggled to gain momentum. Moore is used to shredding the best waves in the world from her home base in Hawaii and is still trying to adapt to the Florida-like surf conditions here.

“It wasn’t my best performance but sometimes you’ve just got to take those heat wins and roll with it,” Moore said. “It was crazy to see some top seeds bow out earlier this morning. It just goes to show that these conditions are very tricky.”

These kind of waves are benefiting fellow American teammate Caroline Marks, who delivered the best performance for the women Monday.

And homefield advantage was clearly on display when three of the four Japanese surfers won their heats, putting the host country on the same footing as the mighty American team.

The most competitive heat to watch Monday featured two superstar US surfers, Kolohe Andino, 27, and John John Florence, 28, who jumped into the water after a 90-minute weather delay caused by low tide.

Both came back to competitive surfing after months away from the waves due to significant injuries and surgery. In the end, it was Florence, the Kelly Slater protégé and among today’s greatest surfers, who was eliminated.

Japan pulls off huge upset in mixed doubles table tennis

The host country knocked off a heavyweight for Olympic gold in table tennis. Japanese pair Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito ended China’s recent dominance in the sport by beating Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen, 4-3, for the mixed doubles title. The upset comes five years after China swept all four table tennis tournaments at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Hopes were still high for Japan entering the match. Mizutani won bronze in singles in Rio, and Ito is considered by some to be China’s biggest threat in the female ranks. China got off to a fast start, convincingly — and quickly — winning the first two games 11-5 and 11-7. Japan fought back in the third game, winning 11-8, and then took two more close games, 11-9 in the fourth and 11-9 in the fifth. China then won the sixth game, 11-6, to set up a deciding seventh game, which Japan dominated, taking an 8-0 lead and holding on for an 11-6 win — and the gold. China’s table tennis team is so strong that Liu, the women’s world champion, didn’t even make the women’s singles’ team and is only playing team events . . . South Korea defended its Olympic men’s archery team title at the Tokyo Games. Energetic 17-year-old Kim Je-deok came up clutch in the semifinals to hold off host nation Japan and then again in a 6-0 win over Chinese Taipei during the gold-medal match at Yumenoshima Park Archery Field . . . Tom Pidcock won the Olympic men’s mountain bike race, extending Britain’s dominance from the road and track to the dirt. Leaving reigning champion Nino Schurter and his Swiss teammate Mathias Flueckiger behind on the fourth of seven laps, the 21-year-old multidiscipline prodigy proceeded to dominate the toughest course in Olympic history. Flueckiger gave chase in vain and was left with a silver medal. David Valero Serrano of Spain won a surprise bronze . . . Britain’s Tom Daley and Matty Lee won gold in men’s 10-meter synchronized diving, ending any chance of a sweep by China at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre . . . Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek won gold in the men’s canoe slalom ahead of the Czech Republic’s Lukas Rohan and Germanyc’s Sideris Tasiadis. Savsek is ranked No. 7 in the world. He knew he had the time to beat after a clean run with no time penalties, and pumped his first as he crossed the finish line. He didn’t have long to wait to see his time of 98.25 seconds hold up as the winner . . . Sofia Pozdniakova won an all-Russian fencing final, 15-11, to take gold in women’s saber and consign teammate Sofya Velikaya to a third consecutive silver medal in the event . . . Cheung Ka Long won Hong Kong’s second Olympic gold medal in its history by beating defending champion Daniele Garozzo of Italy, 15-11, in the men’s foil fencing final . . . In judo, Nora Gjakova won Kosovo’s second gold medal in Tokyo with an ippon victory over France’s Sarah Leonie Cysique. Meanwhile, judo superstar Shohei Ono of Japan won Olympic gold medal after an epic lightweight final against Georgia’s Lasha Shavdatuashvili . . . Matea Jelić won Croatia’s first gold medal by beating Lauren Williams of Britain, 25-21, in the women’s taekwondo 67-kilogram final . . . Maksim Khramtcov won the gold medal in men’s 80-kilogram taekwondo by beating Saleh El-Sharabaty of Jordan, 20-9, in the final despite what the Russian Olympic Committee said was a broken bone in his right arm or wrist . . . Pang Wei and Jiang Ranxin added to China’s medal haul in shooting, defeating Russians Artem Chernousov and Vitalina Batsarashkina to earn gold in 10-meter air pistol mixed team.