UENO Yukiko carries Japan past Australia in softball as Tokyo 2020 competition gets under way in Fukushima

Barely missing a beat, 39-year-old gold medallist Ueno puts the clamps on Aussies in softball's return to the Olympic Games after 13-year absence.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

UENO Yukiko was lights out. Softball was back at the Olympic Games. And the team won.

It couldn't have gone any better for Japan.

The hosts of Tokyo 2020 launched their Games campaign with a convincing 8-1 softball win at Fukushima Azuma Stadium on Wednesday (21 July) behind a throwback performance from their longtime ace Ueno.

It took an inning to shake off the rust but the 39-year-old regrouped to hurl four-plus strong innings before the reigning champions won by the mercy rule after going up by seven in the fifth.

Ueno picked up the win after striking out seven and holding Australia to one earned run on two hits in the first Olympic softball game since Beijing 2008.

NAITO Minori led at the plate with a two-run home run, scoring three times and drawing a pair of walks. FUJITA Yamato also homered for Japan.

"All I felt was excitement before the game", Ueno said. "Early on I was trying to not get ahead of myself and became too picky.

"So from the second inning on I just let go and stayed aggressive, relying on what I know.

"I just want to make sure I give these Games everything I have to offer, to the very last drop.

"I was determined to grind today. There was no other way for me, being in Fukushima".

Ueno drew singular praise from the visitors, who struggled to figure out the gold medal-winning veteran on a stiflingly hot morning in the area devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March, 2011.

"She was pretty good", said Australian captain-third baseman Stacey Porter. "Ueno's a world-class pitcher and one of the best in the world.

"We knew we were going to get her best pitches. She's a classy athlete and does everything right to be prepared for the game. She was on the money.

"We always knew Japan were going to be tough on day one. I thought we were prepared for it but a few things didn't go our way".

Let the Games begin

An unusual atmosphere hung over the city where police and security presence was noticeable as the Games competition got under way, two days before the Opening Ceremony in Tokyo.

With no spectators allowed, crowd noise was played at the stadium nestled in the spruce green of Fukushima which has become synonymous with the Games theme of recovery.

Ueno - who admitted she missed the fans in her first Olympic start in 13 years - got off to a rocky start, giving up a run in the first inning despite allowing just one hit.

After conceding a lead-off single to Michelle Cox, Ueno issued a walk and hit consecutive batters to gift the visitors the opening run.

The hosts managed to restore parity in the bottom half however.

Naito drew a two-out walk and advanced to second after a wild pitch to YAMAMOTO Yu, who drove the runner home with a base hit.

Naito then handed Japan a 3-1 lead in the third with the first homer of these Games, blasting a two-run shot off Kaia Parnaby.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Japan compounded the damage with a three-run fourth highlighted by Fujita's two-run home run that chased Parnaby.

Yamamoto ended the affair in the fifth by taking Tarni Stepto deep with Japan's third two-run homer of the game.

Ueno wasn't at the top of her game but settled after the opening frame. She came out after one out in the fifth and throwing her 85th pitch.

Japan coach UTSUGI Reika said there was never any doubt as to who she was going to send to the mound on Wednesday - her most tried and trusted pitcher.

"I've had the honour of Ueno pitching for me for 20 some years. She was the only one who I could turn to in a situation like this", Utsugi said.

"It was my fault at the start. I should have just let her be herself and pitch the way she knows how to pitch.

"When I saw her on the mound I was in tears. I've known her since 18 and grow into the person and player she is today. I think I know her better than anyone.

"I'm speechless. I could not be happier".

Japan face Mexico on Thursday when Australia play Italy before relocating to Yokohama.

Baseball/Softball photos