Long under the glare of the spotlight and adored by an entire nation, two-time world figure skating champion Mao Asada is looking forward to living an ordinary life.
“I seldom left my figure skates behind whenever I went abroad,” Asada told reporters. “In the future, I hope I will meet a good partner and make a good family together.”
The 22-year-old said on April 13 that she will retire from competitive figure skating after next season.
And while settling down and starting a family may be in the cards for her future, she must first take care of business in Russia. The 2014 Sochi Winter Games will be her last shot at winning Olympic gold.
“I’d like to wrap up my skating career on a big stage like the Olympic Games,” Asada said.
Asada’s retirement announcement shocked those around her. Even her coach, Nobuo Sato, was not informed beforehand.
However, the skater said it was not a sudden decision, and that she had discussed her future with her manager and her sister, Mai.
“Since the beginning of this year, I thought about it and gradually realized it may be time (to retire),” she said on April 14, after the ISU World Team Trophy competition in Tokyo. “I thought I should do all I can this year.”
The Chukyo University student did not say why she was retiring at her still young age, but she denied that her physical condition and the constant pressure were factors in the decision.
“I will have to carve a new path since I have concentrated on skating for so long,” she said. “I will have to think about my future seriously.”
Asada has always been one of the world’s top figure skaters with her trademark triple axel since her senior debut at the age of 15.
She was a favorite to win gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics in Italy, but age restrictions kept her out of the competition.
She continued to compete and win, wowing crowds with her grace and smile, and landing endorsement deals with major Japanese companies.
A highly anticipated showdown took place between Asada and South Korea’s Kim Yu-na in the women’s singles at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Kim skated a near-flawless routine, and Asada, with tears in her eyes on the podium, had to settle for silver.
Following that disappointment, Asada started training from scratch. She took a short break and returned to the ice to recreate her jumps and go back to basics on Sato’s advice.
However, success was elusive. She often failed to land her jumps—including the triple axel—over the next two years.
During that difficult time, tragedy struck; her mother, Kyoko Asada, died of liver disease in December 2011 at the age of 48.
Two weeks after her mother’s death, Asada performed an emotionally charged free skate on Christmas Day in Osaka and won her fifth national championship.
In contrast to her rivals such as Kim and Italy’s Carolina Kostner, Asada continued competing without taking a break. Officials who saw her practice described her as an ascetic monk.
This season, she mastered the triple axel again and stood on the podium at the World Championships for the first time in three years, winning a bronze in London, Canada, in March.
Last year, figure skating officials overheard Asada telling her sister: “I wonder if I should retire after Sochi" and "Dai-chan (Daisuke Takahashi) and Akko-chan (Akiko Suzuki) will retire.”
Akiko Suzuki, who joined the ISU World Team Trophy competition with Asada, has already announced she will retire from competition after next season.
Suzuki said she understands how Asada feels.
“I think she’s too young to finish her career, but she has been under pressure at the forefront for a long time,” Suzuki, 28, said. “I can understand that she wants to wrap up her career in Sochi.”
Daisuke Takahashi, 27, an Olympic bronze medalist, said: “I am the same (as Asada), but I cannot make my plans clear until after the end of the Olympics. I think she wants to put all she has into the Olympics.”
Still, Asada did not completely close the door on her competitive career. Whenever she discussed her intention to retire, she usually qualified it with something like, “That’s what I am thinking right now.”
The Sochi Winter Games start in 300 days.
“In Sochi, I want to put in all my efforts and all the feelings I have been through since the Vancouver Olympics.” Asada said. “It will be my last, so I think I can do my best.”
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