Two hours after the host country won the first softball gold
medal in Olympic history, a partisan crowd lined the fence
outside the U.S. locker room and called for their hero.
"DOT-tee," they chanted, "DOT-tee."
Quipped one security guard, "It like she's some kind of rock
"DOT-tee" is shortstop Dot Richardson, the 34-year-old grande
dame of U.S. softball. She had always dreamed of hitting a home
run in the Olympics, and she did it in the Americans'
opening-game victory over Puerto Rico. As it turned out, that
was nothing. Last night at Golden Park in Columbus, Ga.,
Richardson hit a disputed two-run home run that gave the U.S. a
2-0 lead en route to a 3-1 championship victory over China.
"I've seen the changes in women's athletics up close in this
country," Richardson said after the game. "I got the
opportunities that my older sisters never had. It has all
happened right before my eyes." To train for the Olympics,
Richardson took a one-year leave of absence from USC Medical
Center, where she is a third-year resident in orthopedic
surgery. When she returns to work tomorrow, she will have some
stories to tell her associates.
Batting in the third inning of a scoreless game with
centerfielder Laura Berg on first, Richardson hit a deep fly
ball down the rightfield line. There was no doubt it would clear
the fence; the only question was whether it would stay fair.
Rightfield umpire Geralyn Lindberg, a Swede, immediately
signaled home run, her right index finger circling in the air.
Television replays supported Lindberg's call. "I crouched down
near first, almost all the way down the line to the base, and
got a perfect look," Richardson said. "It definitely was fair."
Not so, said Chinese rightfielder Qiang Wei, who pointed to foul
ground after the ball left the park. Then China coach Li Minkuan
gathered his team as he jawed through an interpreter with home
plate ump Lucie Carmichael. For nine minutes he argued.
Carmichael had already upset the Chinese in the top of the
inning, when she called centerfielder Zhang Chunfang out on a
close play at home--a call that TV replays did not support. With
that play fresh in his mind, Li appeared close to pulling his
team off the field. He didn't, and the game continued without
further incident. But some of the Chinese wept openly afterward,
and their representatives weren't consoled by reporters'
assurances to them that replays showed the ball was fair.
The U.S. added an unearned run in the third, which, given the
dominance of the American pitching staff throughout the
tournament, put the game out of reach. "You have to understand
how much a three-run deficit means to teams when they play us,"
Richardson said. "No one's getting three runs against our staff."
That had been true for the first eight games in the Olympic
tournament. Then last night Michele Granger limited the Chinese
to four hits over 5 2/3 innings before turning the game over to
Lisa Fernandez, who allowed a run on a wild pitch before getting
the final four outs.
While Richardson's long road to the gold medal has been widely
reported, Granger's odyssey was hardly a trip around the block.
A Southern California native, she played softball at the
University of California, then followed her husband, John
Poulos, to Anchorage, where he had landed a legal internship
with the Alaska Supreme Court. "So many mornings I'd wake up,
and it would be 30 below outside with no sun, and I'd say to
myself, Do I want to throw the covers off and get out of bed?"
Granger said, beads of sweat falling from her forehead half an
hour after the game. "I'd get up and go to a church in Anchorage
and pitch in a classroom. I'd just think, I have to keep going."
She paused. "Thinking of this night," she continued, "is the
only thing that got me to practice."
Getting motivated to practice might have been a little easier if
she had known how much excitement the Olympic softball
tournament would generate. Babe Ruth once played in this classic
minor league park, and the atmosphere last night would have led
you to believe that the Bambino was starting in rightfield. Two
hours before game time, in stifling 91 degree heat, a walk
around the stadium found 144 people trying to buy tickets and
only two attempting to sell them. "I've been out here an hour
and a half already, and my legs are too sunburned for me to stay
much longer," said Kim Taylor of Dallas, who was looking for two
tickets. "I saw one guy sell a single ticket for $100." The
retail price was $33.
Crowds of 8,500-plus flocked to almost all of the 17 softball
sessions, which featured loud rock music between innings and
raucous screaming during play. Last night New York Yankees owner
George Steinbrenner frolicked to Celebration by Kool and the
Gang. The U.S. players, who were used to crowds in the hundreds,
reveled in the atmosphere, and the fans reveled back.
The players joke with one another about how poor they are, about
how it's a good thing they love this sport considering all the
sacrifices they have made. After the game second baseman Julie
Smith was asked if she would rather have $50,000 or a gold medal.
Smith didn't even blink. "Put the gold around my neck any day of
the week," she said.
Done. In softball, for the first time.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN IACONO (2) Richardson delivered the biggest blow, then received a hearty hug from Smith upon returning home. [Dot Richardson at bat; Julie Smith and Dot Richardson]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (2) Carmichael's busy third inning started when she called Zhangout in a close play at the plate. [Zhang Chunfang and Lucie Carmichael in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (2) Despite weathering three years in Alaska, winning pitcher Granger never lost sight of her goal. [Michele Granger pitching]