Canada wins bronze over Mexico for 1st women's Olympic softball medal
Japan blanks U.S. in gold-medal contest; sport won't return for Paris Games in 2024
With swirling winds and rain falling at Yokohoma Stadium in Tokyo, the Canadian women's softball team made history by winning the country's first Olympic medal in the sport.
Canada defeated Mexico 3-2 to capture bronze on Tuesday.
Japan won its second straight gold medal, beating the United States 2-0 and adding to its victories of 1996, 2000 and 2004.
The Canadian squad blasted out of its dugout in celebration after the win — for some players it was a moment 13 years in the making.
WATCH | Canada down Mexico to collect historic women's softball bronze:
"It's great to be part of these moments," said second baseman Kelsey Harshman, who drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.
"But these moments aren't possible without those who are playing next to each other, so we just wanted to take a moment to really just think about all the stuff that we've overcome to get to this moment and to be able to relive that moment over and over."
WATCH | Canada wins bronze in softball:
Canada opened the scoring when third baseman Emma Entzminger, from Victoria delivered a clutch two-out single that cashed in two runs for Canada in the bottom of the second inning.
But Mexico fought back and tied the game in the fifth with a two-out hit by Suzannah Brookshire.
That set the stage for some late-game Canadian heroics. In the fifth inning, Janet Leung and Victoria Hayward both beat out throws to first to set up Canada to score. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Larissa Franklin laid down a perfect bunt to advance the runners to second and third.
Harshman, 24, then delivered a sacrifice fly to left field and Leung sprinted to the plate for the winning run.
The players battled through the wet conditions and there were many times pitchers from both sides asked the umpire for new softballs.
Sara Groenewegen, who just three years earlier was given a three per cent chance to survive after contracting Legionnaires disease, started the game on the mound for Canada. Danielle Lawrie, who was with the team in 2008, closed it out for the win.
It has been a long journey getting to the podium for this Canadian team.
Softball returned to the Olympic program for the first time since Beijing 2008 as a special one-off because the sport is popular in Japan. It is not included in events for Paris in 2024. Canada is one of four countries that has qualified for all five Olympic tournaments along with Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
For head coach Mark Smith, the moment couldn't have been sweeter after he told CBC Sports prior to the Olympics he'd be retiring at the end of the Games.
Smith has been part of softball in Canada for decades. He won a world championship gold as a player for Canada in 1992. He captured two world championship bronze medals coaching the women's national team in 2010 and 2016.
Smith made an impassioned plea for softball to become a core Olympic sport on his way out, citing the parity of the tournament in particular.
"From my perspective, it was absurd that it was ever taken out. I think it's more than made its case for why it should be in. And I believe that had COVID not existed, you would have had packed stadiums to watch this game played," Smith said.
Mexico was making its debut at the Olympics and also made history by finishing fourth, the best debut by a softball team in their first Games.
The Canadian team competing in these Games included four players who were on that last Olympic team which finished fourth at Beijing 2008 — Lawrie, Kaleigh Rafter, Lauren Regula and Jenn Salling.
Early in 2021, this current group of Canadian softball players decided they would leave their family and friends back home because of pandemic restrictions to train in the United States. For part of the time they set up camp in Florida. Then they spent time training in Illinois, playing important exhibition games.
WATCH | Groenewegen's inspirational journey to Tokyo:
Smith said the bronze medallists embodied the idea of team.
"To watch how they have stepped up and developed, especially from a resilience standpoint over the last year and a half in the pandemic and all of the challenges that we've all encountered in our individual lives. This team just didn't miss a beat," Smith said.
Canada lost to the U.S. and Japan by one run in both games and while they might think about what might have been, the team was still able to grab the country's first medal ever in the sport at the Games.
"It would have been a travesty in my opinion had we not gone home with a medal, because we worked too hard and these women gave up too much not to be in the position they were in, and thank goodness things worked out for them."
WATCH l Olympic Moment: Canada's softball team re-writes history with an epic bronze medal win in Tokyo: