TOKYO • Japan yesterday expressed national thanks to former world champion figure skater Mao Asada, a day after she shocked the nation by announcing her retirement from competition.
The 26-year-old, who won three world titles in 2008, 2010 and 2014, said on her blog late on Monday that she was hanging up her skates.
By yesterday morning, public broadcaster NHK was reporting the retirement as its top news item.
All major newspapers and sports tabloids reported the announcement on their front pages, while the sports dailies ran inside headlines expressing emotions such as "Thank you, beloved Mao".
The central government weighed in, with top spokesman Yoshihide Suga reacting at a regular morning briefing.
"She performed brilliantly," said the Chief Cabinet Secretary and right-hand man to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"She is a rare athlete that many fans have loved for a long time."
Asada, a silver medallist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics behind South Korea's Kim Yu Na, never made it onto the highest step of the Games podium but that did not seem to matter to her admirers.
"She could not win a gold at an Olympics, but she herself has shined like a gold medal," said Ms Tamayo Marukawa, the state minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Asada took a year off from competition after the 2014 Sochi Olympics before resuming training in 2015.
"After coming back to competition, I have not been able to achieve either the techniques or the results I wanted, and the number of things I worried about increased," she wrote in her blog.
"After last year's Japan nationals, all the goals that had kept me going disappeared, along with my will to compete."
Plagued by knee pain this past season, Asada finished 12th at the national championship in December, the lowest finish in an event she has won six times.
Her retirement also spurred reactions from other athletes.
"Asada is brilliant and attractive as an athlete and great as a person," footballer Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan and Japan said on Twitter. "Personally, she was one of my favourite athletes."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS