Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko praised Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa and other high-ranking Turin Games athletes in a reception Friday at the Imperial Palace.

“I believe many people felt deeply touched and encouraged by your performance,” the Emperor said in the Rensui dining room, where he met the athletes.

The 45 invited Friday included Japan team captain Tomomi Okazaki, who placed fourth in the women’s 500-meter speedskating event, and alpine skier Kentaro Minagawa, who placed fourth in the men’s slalom.

After the Emperor greeted the athletes, they chatted with Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino.

Recounting a conversation with the Emperor, Arakawa told reporters: “When I said I would like to work for children and future skaters, his majesty said, ‘I hope you do your best.’ “

Arakawa saved Japan from coming home empty-handed with her gold-medal performance in February at the Games, where she became famous overnight for her trademark Ina Bauer maneuver. She said Sunday that she will turn professional and perform in ice shows.

The members of Team Aomori, the female curling quintet who became popular across Japan for their performance, also attended. They beat Canada and Britain and almost upset eventual gold medal winner Sweden before ending at seventh with a 4-5 record.

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