The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Tokyo 2020 softball hopeful Danielle Lawrie-Locke reflects on Beijing 2008 Olympic experience
Family has played a crucial role in the career of Canadian softball legend Danielle Lawrie-Locke, and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games was one of the most important occasions where their support was most telling. However, team rules also made the family connection one of the hardest. Danielle and her MLB playing brother Brett were one of two softball/baseball siblings in the Beijing Games - along with Dutch pair Judith and Michiel van Kampen - however she couldn’t even see him play. Lawrie-Locke, a strong contender for the Canadian Tokyo 2020 softball squad, reflects on one of the most difficult moments in her stellar career and how the Beijing 2008 experience turned her into a better player.
It’s the bottom of the seventh inning in the first playoff game of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games softball competition: down 5-3 to Australia, Canada needs a two-run rally to tie the game, avoid elimination and keep the nation's medal hopes alive. With two outs on the scoreboard, Canadian second baseman Jenn Yee hit a grounder to second base for the last out of the game. Canada finished fourth in Beijing 2008, their highest-ever finish in softball at the Olympic Games.
A then 21-year-old Danielle Lawrie-Locke watched the game unfold from the dugout. The right-hander didn’t pitch in the game, as then Canadian ace Lauren Bay Regula pitched the entire game, allowing five hits and five runs, while racking up nine strikeouts. With the game tied 3-3, Australia took the lead on a two-out, two-RBI shallow single by Kerry Wyborn in the top of the sixth inning that was the difference in the game.
It was a bittersweet tournament for Canada, just missing out on the country’s first softball Olympic medal. Lawrie-Locke remembers that Olympic experience clearly.
“My memories of the 2008 Olympic year are very… interesting," Lawrie-Locke said. "Getting the opportunity to go to the Olympic Games was absolutely amazing. But I was very young, and I was dealing with a lot of different emotions as far as playing with a bunch of women that were a lot older than me.
“I’m always thankful to wear my country across my chest, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, the work ethic and the love for the game are always going to be there. I did have issues at times with people on the team and my biggest regret is I wish I could go back in time and just have those hard conversations with people and be able to just understand stuff a little bit better, so I could have had a better experience. Because at 21 years old you just don’t have the same mindset that you do 12 years later.”
On 8 August 2008, Beijing welcomed the world, as 91,000 spectators saw an impressive Opening Ceremony in the Bird's Nest. Danielle was one of the 146 women on the Beijing 2008 Canadian Olympic Team, and the athletes parade was undoubtedly a highlight in her sporting life.
“I remember walking in for the Opening Ceremony, and by far was just blown away," Lawrie-Locke said. "You know, the whole year was a grind to get to the Olympics, many blood, sweat and tears, more tears than I’ve ever had in my entire life. But getting to walk in, wearing your country across your chest, it’s much bigger than you could ever imagine. It was by far the most special moment of the whole 2008 year for me. So a lot of emotions. Is so cool to be back and getting the opportunity to try to do it again 13 years later and hopefully win a medal.”
Another special thing for Lawrie-Locke was sharing the Olympic Village with her younger brother, Brett, a first-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 who led Canada to the bronze medal in the U-18 Baseball World Cup 2006. He participated in the Olympics as the youngest player in Canada’s Olympic baseball team that finished sixth in Beijing.
“My brother was there; and I remember Lori Sippel (Canada Softball Head Coach) didn’t allow us to see other (Canadian) teams," said Lawrie-Locke. "That part was definitively by far the hardest for me, because when you get to go into the Olympic Games you think about getting to see another sport, but most importantly getting to watch my own brother playing for Canada, and I wasn’t allowed. So, I think for me that was definitely a hard pill to swallow. Yes, it was all about the team, I wanted to win. But how many opportunities are you going to get going to the Olympic Games with your brother?
“Having my brother there at the Games was pretty special. If I had a bad day or I was struggling, we’d go to the cafeteria together and we’d eat and just talk together. And the fact that my parents were there, my grandma was there, my coach was there, was by far one of the most incredible moments and experiences in my life, especially for my family. And at the end of the day, that’s what I remember the most. My family there, loving me no matter what happened. My brother there in the Village, no matter what happened. The love and support. I think it just allows you to remember that we have each other's back. It was really cool to be able to share that with him.”
Lawrie-Locke pitched 12.1 innings in the 2008 Olympic Games, recording one win and one loss with a 2.27 ERA. She totalled 8 hits, 4 runs, 13 strikeouts and 1 walk for the tournament. She earned the win against the Netherlands on 13 August 2008 (4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 SO), and three days later she was outdueled by Venezuelan ace Mariangee Bogado, in a close 2-0 game (7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 9 K).
The Ugly - Learning from the Olympics
The Langley native had probably her best year as an athlete in 2009, leading the University of Washington to the NCAA title. She won back to back USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Awards in 2009 and 2010, being only one of three players in history to earn the award multiple times (Cat Osterman and Keilani Rickets are the other two members of this exclusive club). The Olympic experience in 2008 played a key role in her development as an elite player.
“If I did not go through the ups and downs in the 2008 Olympic year, I am not the same person that I was in 2009 and won the National Championship," said Lawrie-Lock. "Sometimes in sport I think, that’s how it works out. You don’t always get the good stuff, you don’t always get the medals, and I was devastated losing that opportunity to win in 2008. But I went through the wringer. I was challenged...I had to work harder...I had to learn new things. Mentally, I knew I had to get better, and I literally worked my tail off with sports psychologists.
“So I just think it was really important to me to remember how hard I worked in that Olympic year and to carry that over to the National Championship year. In order to win a National Championship, I had to step it up another notch, I had to work harder...I had to push the threshold...I had to work on the mental game. And doing all those things, in the back of my mind remembering that 2008 grind, it’s truly what allowed to me to keep pushing in some of the hardest games in that 2009 year.”
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