Japanese figure skating star Mao Asada announced her retirement as a competitive skater earlier this week. She frankly revealed in her blog, "I've lost my motivation to continue skating as a competitive athlete." Her beaming smile at competitions both here and abroad will be missed.
Asada, 26, first captured hearts when she appeared in the Japan championships in Kyoto in December 2002 -- then a newcomer aged 12. She pulled off her signature triple axel and landed in seventh place. Her phenomenal performance quickly earned her a reputation as a prodigy.
Gifted she is, but she also practiced relentlessly for hours on end, spending every free moment on the ice. Her coach is said to have had a hard time stopping her from training too much. But her staggering workload was the source of her confidence.
Asada took part in nine world championships, and clinched the top spot in three of them. Her unusual stamina allowed her to reign alongside leading female skaters almost nonstop during her championship career, with the exception of a one-year hiatus after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Amongst all her distinguished performances, the most impressive for many was her freestyle skate at the Sochi Olympics. After a disastrous short program skate, she recovered overnight and managed to land eight triple jumps in the free program. Her tears of joy upon completing the timeless performance moved many viewers in Japan who remained glued to their TV screens late into the night as they watched her live.
Despite the pressure of being in the global spotlight for years since her mid-teens, Asada never failed to smile gracefully whenever she could, both in good times and bad. Her familiar presence inspired children and sparked an ongoing figure skating boom, and she was elevated above her athletic career to stardom as a national heroine.
Asada also devoted herself to supporting recovery efforts in areas devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, mingling with disaster victims through skating workshops and ice shows.
In recent years, Asada reportedly suffered from pain in her left knee, which she, like other skaters, relies on for jumps. Her longtime career likely took a heavy toll on her body.
Many up-and-coming teenage figure skaters both in Japan and aboard today admire Asada and have strived to be a top skater like her. The number of female competitive figure skaters has increased in many countries. Of the two Olympics she participated in, the highest accolade Asada won was the silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Games, but her contribution to the figure skating world undoubtedly merits a gold medal.
Asada's career as a competitive figure skater spanned some 15 years, including her junior years. We would like to send her this hearty message: "Thanks for a great job."