TOKYO (AFP) - Ayaka Takahashi, who won Japan's first-ever badminton Olympic gold with her doubles partner in Rio 2016, has retired conceding she no longer has the "inner fire" to compete.
Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo scored a spectacular come-from-behind win at the 2016 Olympics, scoring five straight points when down 19-16 in the final game to defeat Denmark's Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl.
But she has opted to skip the chance to defend her Olympic title on home soil, citing in part the decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games by a year because of the coronavirus.
"After winning the gold medal in Rio, I'd been struggling to maintain morale," she confessed at an online press conference this week.
Despite training hard with Matsutomo, she said she had struggled with "records that were not satisfying enough in 2019, the suspension of tournaments, and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics".
"I doubt if my inner fire and body will last for another year," she said.
Takahashi said Matsutomo and her sponsors "respected" her decision, and that she now hoped to work to promote badminton.
Takahashi and Matsutomo, nicknamed "Takamatsu," were the first non-Chinese pair to win gold since badminton was introduced to the Olympics in 1992.
Matsutomo told reporters she was "deeply grateful for the partnership", adding she couldn't imagine "having gotten this far" without Takahashi.
The coronavirus pandemic has badly hit the 2020 badminton world tour, forcing the cancellation of the prestigious Japan and China Opens next month.
The Tokyo 2020 Games are now scheduled to open on July 23, 2021, though there are questions about whether the global event can go ahead if the pandemic has not receded by then.