Japanese skater Asada bows out with 'no regrets'

Alastair HIMMER
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Japanese former world champion figure skater Mao Asada says she is leaving the sport with 'no regrets', shown here performing at the ISU Grand Prix in Paris on November 12, 2016

Japan's former world champion Mao Asada said she had nothing left physically or emotionally to give to figure skating in a tearful farewell news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old, who announced her bombshell decision to quit the sport on her blog earlier this week, told reporters figure skating had been her life since she was a teeny tot in kindergarten.

"It has begun so sink in that my career is over," said Asada, fighting back tears under the glare of lights from some 40 television crews and flashguns.

"There have been plenty of mountains to climb but I've been skating since I was five -- it's been my life," added Asada, who won three world titles in 2008, 2010 and 2014 but failed to win an Olympic gold medal.

"My head feels very clear and I leave with no regrets."

Asada cited a lack of motivation following an alarming slump in form for her decision to retire, having taking a one-year break after the last of her world championship victories.

After returning to the ice for the 2015-16 season, Asada's results began to nose-dive and she finished in a humiliating 12th place at the Japan nationals last December in her final competition.

"After that I felt I really can't do this anymore," said Asada, dressed in a plain white suit with a simple ponytail.

Her decision also ended her dream of competing at next year's Pyeongchang Olympics.

"I said in public that was my objective but since I came back I gave everything but it got harder and harder for me -- emotionally, physically and in terms of motivation," she explained.

- 'Nothing left' -

"There was nothing left to give," added Asada, who has also struggled this season with a knee problem.

"I still have photos of myself as a five-year-old skating in a crash helmet and knee-pads. It's amazing I've been able to compete for such a long time."

Asada's retirement pushed rising geopolitical tensions on the neighbouring Korean peninsula off top news in Japan, such is her celebrity since shooting to fame by winning the Grand Prix Final as a 15-year-old.

South Korea's ice queen Kim Yuna -- to whom Asada played second fiddle throughout her career -- was barely mentioned by local journalists, though Asada did admit their rivalry had "made things exciting for figure skating".

Asada took silver behind Kim at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics but will arguably be best remembered for her brave free skate at the 2014 Sochi Olympics after a disastrous short programme.

A virtually flawless free skate left her still out of the medals but she captured the hearts of a nation and fans around the world as she burst into full, body-heaving sobs at the end of her routine.

"That probably was the highlight for me," said Asada, who has won 15 grand prix titles -- third all-time behind Russians Evgeni Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya.

"After that short skate, I didn't think I would be able to return to Japan. I had never been as low as that. I wanted to finish on a high note so I just had to go for it."