On July 22, Stacey Porter was supposed to lead Australia in an Olympic softball game against host nation Japan, as the sport made its return to the Games after a 12-year absence.
But the impact of COVID-19 meant the Tokyo Games were postponed and the agonising wait was extended for one more year.
“It’s made me hungrier and hopefully it makes everyone else a little bit hungrier,” Porter said.
It could even work to the team’s advantage.
“We’ve got some girls that are in their 20’s and just hitting their straps,” Porter said.
“Even the girls a little bit older than that … so I don’t think another 12 months is going to hurt us.”
Stacey Porter and Justine Smethurst are the only members of the current squad to have competed at an Olympics.
That’s largely due to the fact softball hasn’t been included in the Games since 2008.
Along with baseball, it was among a handful of sports added to Tokyo’s line-up because of their popularity in the host nation.
Porter was just 22 years old when she had her first taste of the Olympics at Athens in 2004. By her own admission, she was just “happy to be there”.
In Australia’s five-one loss to the USA in the gold medal game, she hit a double which allowed Sandy Lewis to score. It was the only run scored against the Americans during the entire Games.
“That was a good memory obviously, the USA in that Olympics were a little bit untouchable,” Porter said.
“I think they deemed them ‘The Dream Team’, they kind of just dominated the whole time.
“It was a great game, unfortunately we didn’t win but (they were) certainly good memories that I’ll hopefully take into next year and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
The Brisbane-based batter is the world’s most capped softballer, with 441 games.
She’ll be 39 years old at next year’s Olympics, but age isn’t an issue for her yet.
“I haven’t made any mention of when my time is up, I’m sure it’s not too far down the track.
“I’ve always said when my body tells me or my heart tells me that that’s enough, then that will be enough,” Porter said.
Off-field and into Indigenous communities
Porter was the first Indigenous Australian to represent her country in softball at an Olympic Games.
According to Softball Australia, the team sport is the most popular for Indigenous women.
Porter has travelled across the country, covering thousands of kilometres in a bid to help kids develop a healthy lifestyle and an interest in the game.
“I’ve had lots of opportunities to get around to mostly outback New South Wales and work with Indigenous kids there. I’ve (also) been over to the West Australian communities,” she said.
She enjoys seeing the kids have fun, doing something that she has gotten a lot of joy from.
“They just love to get out and throw a ball around and swing a bat.
“Just to see those kids get out there and put a smile on their faces, it’s something I’ve always been interested in.
“Hopefully I can do a little bit more post-career,” Porter said.
Softball is in, then it’s out
After featuring at the Olympics from 1996 to 2008, softball was left off the schedule for 2012.
“I was quite shocked when we found out we’d been pulled from the Olympic movement,” Porter said.
“It’s hard to throw so much at such a big period in your life to focus on something and then it’s been taken away.
“I certainly felt for all the kids and the up-and-comers. There’s a chunk of people that fell off after that.”
When the Olympic movement didn’t step up to the plate, Porter secured a professional contract in the Japanese league and this year is her 13th consecutive season.
Other Australians will be looking for similar opportunities in the future with softball struck off the list again for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
“We waited 12 years to be put back in the Olympic movement only for there to be the one Games and the next one we’re out of so it’s not easy to take.
“In the next Olympics after Paris it’s Los Angeles, so we would hope it would be back in then,” Porter said.
Softball has been included in just four Olympic Games and Australia has a proud record of securing a medal at each of them.
There was bronze in 1996 and 2000, silver in 2004 and another bronze in 2008.
As for Tokyo 2021, Porter is confident Australia can bring home another one.
“Well, there’s only one colour left, isn’t there!”