TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese figure skater Mao Asada, an Olympic silver medallist and three-time world champion, said on Wednesday she had given her all to her competitive career and had no regrets about retiring from the sport.
The 26-year-old, known for being the only woman to land the complicated triple Axel jump three times in competition, said on Monday she had lost the will to compete.
Asada, who took a year off from skating before resuming training in 2015, told a packed news conference on Wednesday that while the decision had been difficult, she gradually came to feel it was time.
“Up to now in my skate career, I’ve given everything I had, and I have no regrets,” said the calm and mostly smiling Asada, at one point brushing away tears.
Asada is a household name in Japan, known by the affectionate nickname “Mao-chan,” and the news of her retirement was plastered across newspaper front pages on Tuesday.
Her retirement news conference was carried live by nearly all television stations, and several newspapers ran editorials with one calling her a “national heroine”.
Plagued by knee pain this past season, Asada finished 12th at the national championship in December, the lowest finish of her career in a competition she had won six times - a situation she said was key to her decision.
“The first season after returning to competition went all right, but by the second I really had to keep telling myself over and over to just keep going,” said Asada, who described feeling as if she could not keep up with advances in the sport.
“After the nationals I thought, ‘well, that’s it.'”
Asada began skating at the age of five, lured into the sport by her older sister Mai, and began to draw attention while still a junior, sharing the limelight with South Korea’s Kim Yuna at the start of a long rivalry.
Kim and Asada’s rivalry reached a head at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, when Asada had to settle for silver while Kim claimed gold.
Asada was tipped as a leading medal contender at the 2014 Sochi Olympics but had a disastrous short programme, although she rebounded with a strong free skate to finish sixth overall.
“After the short programme, I thought I wouldn’t be able to return to Japan, and the morning of the free skate I woke still feeling that way,” she said.
“But the moment I stepped out on the rink I just thought I’d have to do it, and give it everything I had.”
Asked about her future plans, Asada said she’s taking part in an ice show this summer but is still thinking about the rest.
“I’ve been skating since I was five and have gained so much from it,” she said. “So I want to do something, in some form, to give back to the sport.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Greg Stutchbury