Second baseman Dot Richardson #1 (far left) and US Olympic Softball Team celebrate at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 on Sept. 26, 2000 in New South Wales, Australia.
Twenty years ago, the U.S. women’s softball team won its second consecutive Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney and further cemented its reputation as the best in the world.
Midway through the preliminary games of the tournament, however, the Americans were in danger of not even making the medal round.
What stands out the most now in the minds of the players all these years later is not just winning, but how they won and pulled themselves out a slide that threatened to send them home empty-handed.
“It was a true testament of Olympic athletes and what you go through,” said pitcher Michele Smith, who won gold medals in 1996 and 2000. “A lot of the time when you’re young you think everything is going to go swimmingly, you’re going to go in there and have the best event ever, and as you look back you realize that sports are not like that, the Olympics are rarely like that and life in general is not like that. One of things that was so great about that group of women is what we overcame mid-event.”
The U.S. surged into the tournament not only as the defending Olympic champions but also with a No. 1 world ranking and a 110-game winning streak.
There were a number of factors working against the team, however.
Instead of playing in front of an adoring home crowd as it had four years earlier in Atlanta, Team USA was going into Australia, where everyone was rooting for whichever team was playing the U.S. The Americans were also facing tougher competition.
“Winning in ’96, we raised the bar and then all the other teams around the world got to the bar we raised, and we just didn’t raise it higher on our end,” said outfielder Laura Berg, the most decorated softball Olympian with three gold medals and one silver.
The pitcher’s rubber was also still at 40 feet after college programs had moved to 43 feet, and offense was tough to come by when the top contenders faced each other. After the U.S. won its first two games against Canada and Cuba by a combined score of 9-0, things changed.