On this day: ‘Hitting it out in the gold medal game’ | 1996 Atlanta Olympics

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Editor’s Note: This story was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday, July 31, 1996, after the 32nd game of a wearying, hardball series pit the United States and China in the championship. This is a daily take of the events that transpired on the 25th anniversary of the Games in Atlanta.

COLUMBUS — U.S. shortstop and captain Dot Richardson said she had three recurring dreams about the Olympics.

In one, she hit a home run in her first Olympic softball game.

She did that.

In the others, she hit a homer to clinch the gold medal for the U.S. and she and her teammates stood atop the medal platform as “The Star- Spangled Banner” played.

Tuesday night, she did those things, too.

“This was the best dream, hitting it out in the gold medal game,” Richardson said as she and her teammates walked out of Golden Park wearing Olympic gold medals around their necks. “The power of the mind and the power of dreams — they do come true. They do!”

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

It didn’t matter that her final homer, one of three she hit in the Olympics, was disputed by her opponents, who believed it was foul.

The Chinese argued with any umpire who would listen for nearly 15 minutes. In television replays, it appeared the ball was fair by inches.

Richardson said she watched it land. She knew it was fair.

“You couldn’t blame them,” she said. “I saw it the way the umpire saw it. I knew it had the distance, and I got down low and I watched it land.”

When she saw the ball cross the outfield fence and the nearest umpire call it a homer, she pumped her arms in the air and trotted around the bases. Laura Berg, on base before her, leaped into the air as she rounded the bases.

Those two runs were the difference in the game as the U.S. beat China 3-1 to win the gold medal that players such as Richardson had waited years for.

“Receiving the gold medal, it’s a humbling experience,” said Richardson, at 34 the oldest member of the U.S. team.

Richardson ran past former softball greats who were in the stands and said she felt she won the medal “on behalf of everyone who played the sport.”

Before the medals were awarded, Richardson and roommate Lisa Fernandez ran onto the field with a U.S. flag. Fernandez and second baseman Julie Smith then ran around the outfield as fans cheered from the bleachers.

Richardson took a year off from her residency as an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles to pursue her Olympic dream.

“This is awesome,” she said, holding up her medal. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Day 11: Carl Lewis, Mr. Olympics | Day 13: An impossible hurdle