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Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been dubbed “softball’s Michael Jordan,” will officially retire from the international world at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic gold medals, years of retirement and a lot of adversity – from a global pandemic to dotted gold medal dreams.
Osterman and his crew left Tokyo on Tuesday on a bittersweet note with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski / Twitter)
Osterman in the 2021 final (Antoni Majewski / Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and more than a decade of hiatus, Team USA and Osterman made it to the final. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1) and Japan (2-1) .
Deja vu struck in the final match. On the one hand, Osterman and her 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other, Yukiko Ueno, 39, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA on the final round.
“Just like 13 years ago,” Ueno said at a press conference, “we faced each other in the final”.
Ueno, who had lost hope of winning gold against Osterman in 2004, edged his longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as the United States team were limited to just three hits. The same team that had squandered their gold medal hopes 13 years ago had done so again.
“There’s a bit of a letdown in not winning gold because it’s the eye on the prize when you go there and you know you have a chance,” Osterman told Astonia. “But most of all, I’m very proud of the way our team handled everything that was a part of this trip and not just the six games.”
It was that same loss at the 2008 Olympics that partly motivated Osterman to return to the mound. She officially dropped the glove in 2015 after six seasons with USSSA Pride, took time out with her family, and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp achieve greatness while coaching at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health / Twitter)
She thought her Olympic efforts were well over, until discussions of restoring softball to the Games resumed the conversation.
“It wasn’t until 2016 or 2017 that it occurred to me to possibly put the American uniform back on,” Osterman said. “After the World Championships in 2010 I left and I thought my career on the international stage was over. So it was a nice new opportunity.”
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was once again on the pitch with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable “Fire and Ice” duo on the mound. Others had just graduated from university.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year’s Games.
“It can be very different when you have 24 and 38 year olds on the same pitch,” said Osterman. “Adversity has put us in difficult positions and we have succeeded brilliantly. And this group will be forever special just because what we have had to go through is so different.”
While on the mound, Osterman’s job was to give the team a smooth start. Off the pitch, she felt her role had much the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath for her teammates for the first time.
“There are no words to explain how nervous and excited you are that the whole world can watch,” Osterman. “I think using those emotions and figuring out how to line up all of our butterflies and go in the right direction, so that we all move forward together, was kind of my role outside of pitching.”
We’ve heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she’s gone for good, even from training. After her last time with Team USA on September 27, she plans to return to Austin, where she will seek to work for a nonprofit organization.
One gold and two silver will be enough for one of the most decorated athletes in the history of American softball.
“Being able to say that you are a three-time Olympic medalist is quite a special affair, isn’t it? Ostermann. “I’ve been playing for a long time. But it’s the pinnacle, in my mind, and it’s kind of what sparks the dream of continuing to play.”
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