Asia

Figure skating star Mao Asada stuns Japan with retirement

Photograph taken on 2 April 2016 showing Mao Asada performing during the ladies free skate competition at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, USA. Image copyright AFP
Image caption While her form had dipped, Mao Asada was still loved by her fans

Three-time figure skating world champion Mao Asada stunned her native Japan by retiring on Monday.

The announcement came amid declining form, culminating in a 12th-place finish in Japan's national championships in December.

She cited a lack of motivation as a reason for the decision.

"After last year's Japan nationals, all the goals that had kept me going disappeared, along with my will to compete," she wrote in her blog.

Asada said that she had not been able to achieve the techniques or results she had hoped for since returning to competition after a break following the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

"This was a huge decision for me, but I regard it as only one stage of my life and will find new dreams and goals going forward," she said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption She had been plagued by a knee injury this season

Despite her success on the world stage, Asada - whose trademark move was the triple axel jump - never won an Olympic gold.

The closest she came was silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, behind South Korea's Kim Yuna.

In Sochi in 2014 she came in sixth, after a fall during her short programme, but won her third World Championship title a month later.

The 26-year-old took a year off after her 2014 season, but never entirely regained her form after her return to the sport.

Fans, fellow athletes and local media all paid tribute to the star.

"Asada is brilliant and attractive as an athlete and great as a person," tweeted Inter Milan and Japan footballer Yuto Nagatomo of her "difficult decision".

Figure skating journalist Hiro Yoshida‏ echoed the sentiment: "Mao is not just a world champion but a truly iconic sportsperson in Japan."

The government also expressed gratitude to Ms Asada for inspiring the nation.

"I just want to thank her for her great work," said top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga at a regular press briefing. "She is a rare athlete that many fans have loved for a long time."

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