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Ai Fukuhara announces retirement from table tennis

Kyodo, Staff Report

Ai Fukuhara, a four-time Olympian in women’s table tennis for Japan, announced on her blog Sunday that she is retiring from competition.

One of Japan’s most popular athletes, Fukuhara rose to fame as a child prodigy. She competed at the Olympics from 2004 to 2016, winning a team silver medal at the 2012 London Games and a bronze two years ago in Rio de Janeiro.

She married Chiang Hung-Chieh, a fellow table tennis player from Taiwan after the Rio Games, gave birth to their daughter a year ago and has not competed since.

“Recently, I’ve found the answers within myself that I had been searching for. From the standpoint of myself as an athlete, I’m drawing the line here,” the 29-year-old wrote.

“I first gripped a racket at the age of three years and nine months, turned pro at 10 and began playing for the national team at 11. I played in the Chinese league when I was in high school. It’s been a long road and I’ve experienced so much.”

Fukuhara first rose to prominence when she advanced to the last 16 at the national championships for elementary school students (open to ages eight and under) in 1993 at just four years old. She was then featured on television programs as the “genius table tennis girl,” and began to be known by her popular nickname “Ai-chan.”

Fans were also moved by images of a young Fukuhara crying in frustration during matches and practice sessions, scenes that were often shown on TV shows and in commercials.