Figure skating icon Mao Asada announced Monday on her blog that she is retiring.
The 26-year-old, three-time world champion and silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — known affectionately by her first name in Japan — has been plagued by left-knee pain this season.
“I’ve made the decision to end my career as a figure skater,” Mao wrote. “I’ve been able to skate this long and overcome so many obstacles thanks to the support and cheer I received from many people.”
Excelling particularly at the triple axel, Mao won her first Grand Prix Finals at the age of 15 in 2005. She missed out on the 2006 Torino Games due to her age, but was fast becoming a national heroine in Japan.
The Aichi Prefecture native won her first world championship in 2008 before adding two more in 2010 and 2014. Mao took a year off after the 2014 season, and never recovered her best form since.
Olympic gold was the one title that continued to elude her, as Mao finished sixth at the 2014 Sochi Games, just one month before winning the 2014 world title.
“I had the best performance and result during the world championship in the same season as the Sochi Olympics. Had I called it a day then, I might still have been hoping to return as a skater now,” wrote Mao.
She was the leading figure in the sport for a decade having won 15 titles in the Grand Prix series, including four at the Final. Her last came at the Cup of China in November 2015.
Coach Machiko Yamada — who mentored Mao since her elementary-school days and who also coached 1992 Albertville Games silver medalist Midori Ito, the first female to successfully perform the triple axel in competition — had only words of praise for Mao.
“I really want to say well done to her,” Yamada said. “She is filled with charm not just as a skater but as a person.”
Mao won the national championship six times, but finished a career-low 12th at the event last December.
“After the national championships last year, the goal that had been driving me disappeared, and with it went the motivation to continue as a skater too,” she wrote.
“I reached the decision but I have no regret over my figure skating career. It was a big decision for me, but I also believe it is another passing point in my life. I want to find new dreams and goals and progress further with a smile on my face.”
“I’m really thankful to everyone for giving me so much support.”