The Japanese softball team wins to start the games.

TOKYO – The games’ first competition started with a ball and ended with a home run.

Michelle Cox, the Australian softball team’s first hitter, took a low blow from Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno at an empty stadium in Fukushima on Wednesday in the first competitive act of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pitch – after a bit of pre-match pageantry that included the introduction of several officials and dignitaries – officially kicked off an edition of the Games that had been brewing for years and was delayed for a year by the pandemic of coronavirus.

It was also Australia’s last offensive highlight. Japan responded with a run of their own in the bottom of the first, two in the third and three in the fourth. And when Yu Yamamoto hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, Japan’s lead was 8-1 and the leniency rule was invoked, ending the game.

The game, two days before the opening ceremony, was the first of three in softball and a half-dozen in soccer that saw the first athletes enter the field in games. Japan and Australia had the honor to start; their match at Fukushima Azuma baseball stadium was to be followed by clashes involving the United States and Italy and between Mexico and Canada.

Six matches later Wednesday – including the United States’ opener against Sweden at Tokyo Stadium – were due to open the women’s soccer tournament.

It is not uncommon for Olympic competition to begin before the Opening Ceremony, a consequence of a tight schedule and extensive tournaments that can take longer than the official 17-day window of the Games.

Cox, the first hitter, made the most of her moment in the Olympic spotlight: she worked a full count against Ueno, then beat a single in the infield to the pitcher.

Ueno, the starter from Japan, had a tough round. After giving Cox a single, she walked a batter and hit the next two with pitches. This allowed Cox to score the first inning of the game – and games.

But the hosts’ first nerves quickly faded, and they gradually drifted apart until, all of a sudden, Yamamoto sealed his victory.

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