Mao Asada graciously answered every question she was asked during a news conference on Wednesday, her first public appearance since announcing her retirement from figure skating two days earlier in a post on her blog.
Speaking in a large ballroom at a Tokyo hotel, in front an estimated 430 reporters, Mao emphasized that she feels at peace with her decision to leave the sport she has been engaged in since she was 5 years old.
Mao wrote on her blog on Monday night that she realized her career was over as a competitive skater when she finished 12th at December’s national championships — her worst result in 14 appearances. She said on Wednesday that she had made up her mind to leave the sport in February.
“I’ve always tried to perform without making mistakes and skate confidently,” Mao said of her performance at the national championships, where she had previously captured six titles. “I wasn’t able to give a perfect performance and that frustrated me. I saw my score in the kiss and cry, and thought, ‘Maybe I don’t have to do this anymore.’
“I’ve competed at the national championships since I was 12, and I ended with the most disappointing result that I ever had. It factored into making the decision as one of the biggest reasons.”
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old, a three-time gold medalist at the world championships and the silver medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, leaves the sport with a smile on her face. She thought of wearing a black suit on Wednesday, but instead chose a white blouse and black skirt to reflect her refreshed state of mind.
She said that she is satisfied that she “had done everything” she could possibly do in her storied career.
Mao confessed that there was actually one thing she regrets. When she returned to the ice after a year’s layoff following the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she made it her goal to go to the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.
“I was conflicted because I announced my goal publicly and didn’t carry it out,” said Mao, who finished sixth yet displayed an impressive, engrossing free-skate performance at the Sochi Games.
“I began figure skating when I was little and it gave me joy when I was able to do techniques I hadn’t done,” said the Nagoya native, whose signature move was the triple axel. “It was like, ‘I want to do a triple loop next.’ Those kind of things were fun.
“I don’t really have any bad memories, because this is the path I chose for myself.”
Mao’s name was often associated throughout her career with rival Yuna Kim. Asked about her feelings toward the South Korean Olympic gold medalist of the 2010 Vancouver Games, Mao said, “We competed with each other since we were about 16 years old. We really inspired each other and I think we shook up figure skating together.”
Mao said she would appear in a skate show in July in Osaka, but outside of that, she does not have any concrete plans for her post-competitive figure skating career.
At the end of the news conference, Mao stood up and once again expressed her appreciation to her supporters. She almost choked up but regained composure and left with positive words about her future.
“Not forgetting what I’ve done in my skating career, I would like to find a new goal and move forward with a smile on my face,” she said.