TOKYO (Reuters) - Daisuke Takahashi, the first Japanese man to win an Olympic figure skating medal, said on Tuesday he is retiring from the sport after 20 years on the ice.
The 28-year-old helped popularise the sport at home and made Japanese skating history by claiming a bronze medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He also became the first Japanese man to win a World Championship in 2010 and a gold medal at the Grand Prix final for 2012-2013.
“I’ve decided to retire from skating and advance towards a new goal,” Takahashi told reporters at a hastily-called news conference in the western city of Okayama, where he was attending an awards ceremony.
“Originally I’d planned to take a lot more time to think about this, but then I thought the best way to clear my path to start on something new would be to quit decisively, so I made up my mind rather suddenly.”
Takahashi said he had yet to make a decision on what to do next, but Japanese media reported he had expressed an interest in coaching.
The youngest of four boys born to a carpenter and a beautician, Takahashi began skating at the age of eight after visiting a newly-built ice rink in his hometown with his mother, who had hoped to interest him in ice hockey.
Known more as a hard worker than a prodigy, Takahashi’s perseverance began paying off when he started competing.
In 2001-2002, his debut season as a junior, he became the first Japanese man to win the World Junior Championships before moving on to senior level competitions the next year.
To defray expenses, his mother took on a second job working for a company that made boxed lunches, while his father would travel to construction sites far away in search of work, Japanese media said.
Until his first major victory, he had only one pair of skates and his mother made his costumes herself.
A torn knee ligament and surgery kept Takahashi off the ice for much of the 2008-2009 season, but he powered back to gain a slot at the Vancouver Olympics, his second of three Olympic appearances, where he won bronze.
His final Olympic competition, at Sochi in February, was tarnished by scandal when the musician credited with composing the music he used for his short programme, a man known as the “Beethoven of Japan”, said he had used a ghost writer for his compositions. Takahashi went on to place sixth.
He sat out this year’s world championships, held in Japan soon after the Olympics, with a knee injury.
Sporting a neat goatee, Takahashi confessed he felt uncertain about his future and would need time to think it over.
“The fact that I’ve announced my retirement publicly means I have to get serious about what I want to do next,” he said, adding that the thing he most wants right now is a “clear goal.”
“When I was competing, I didn’t think about what to do next. There was just one goal to aim for after another and I didn’t have to really make a choice,” he added.
“Everyone has to do this on their way to becoming an adult, I’m just doing it later than most.”
Takahashi’s mother told the news conference she had mixed feelings about his retirement.
“I feel both lonely and happy,” she said, as Takahashi grinned beside her. “Your father and I hope you will try hard at whatever you decide to do next.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford