Japanese figure skating ice dance duo Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi expressed hope Tuesday that more skaters in their country will take up ice dance and pairs.
A day after announcing their retirement in a social media post, the duo, known to fans as "KanaDai," told a news conference in Tokyo that the training environment for the two events has created a gap between Japan and the world's leading nations.
Takahashi's transition to ice dance in 2020 cast a spotlight on a figure skating discipline that had previously received little Japanese media attention.
The 2010 Olympic men's singles bronze medalist attracted fans to the duo's performances in and out of Japan.
"The (Japan Skating Federation) has increasingly put energy into the couples' events, but it still falls behind the world's best," the 37-year-old Takahashi said.
"Japanese pairs skaters and ice dancers have to go overseas for training. To do that, it costs a lot of money. It remains difficult for Japan to challenge the world's best in the couples' events unless we get a better training environment."
Takahashi and Muramoto were coached by Marina Zueva at their base camp in Florida.
The first Japanese man to win a figure skating world title, Grand Prix Final and Olympic medal, Takahashi helped popularize men's figure skating in the country before the rise of superstar Yuzuru Hanyu.
Takahashi claimed the men's singles bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and finished sixth at the 2014 Sochi Games, where Hanyu won the first of his two Olympic golds.
Takahashi was a five-time national champion when he announced his retirement in October 2014, but a sense of unfinished business pulled him back to the ice four years later.
He reached the national championships in December 2018 through regional qualifying events and finished second in a stunning return, then sprang another surprise in September 2019 by announcing his switch to ice dance.
The transition was not easy at first for the former singles star, who had to build up his strength in order to meet the physical demands of the new discipline.
"I spoke to Kana after the Four Continents Championships. It was my right knee that couldn't keep up with me. There was nothing I could do," Takahashi said when asked why the duo decided to retire together.
Muramoto, 30, was not surprised to hear his decision to quit, saying that "I was kind of ready for that. There was no better partner I could think of, so I decided to end my career without finding a new partner."
Takahashi made his ice dance debut alongside Muramoto in November 2020 at the ISU Grand Prix's NHK Trophy in Osaka, where they finished third.
They missed out on selection for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics after being narrowly beaten by husband-and-wife pair Misato and Takeru Komatsubara at the December 2021 national championships, winning the free dance but finishing second overall.
Their second place at the January 2022 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, was the best-ever result by a Japanese ice dance pair.
Asked to comment on his second retirement, Takahashi said, "I had some regrets when I quit as a singles skater. It was like fading out as I couldn't compete at what could be my last world championships.
"Since I retired once, I knew how I wanted to hang up my skates this time. I was ready mentally, so I feel fresh now."
Takahashi has already been credited for helping increase participation in ice dancing, evidenced by the number of junior athletes who gather at classes he teaches.
The duo's last two competitive performances both took place in Japan, with KanaDai finishing 11th at March's world championships in Sataima and fourth at April's World Team Trophy in Tokyo, where Team Japan took bronze.