Figure skater Asada defers decision on retirement
Japan's Mao Asada acknowledges the fans during the awards ceremony at the world figure skating championships in Saitama on March 29, 2014 - by Kazuhiro Nogi
Asada, the runner-up to South Korean star Kim Yu-Na at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has kept her fans and skating officials in suspense by saying she had a "50-50 chance" of continuing to compete after this season.
"What I feel is that I need some rest now," the 23-year-old told reporters during an exhibition after the season-closing world figure skating championships in Saitama near Tokyo.
"I have struggled for three years as I could not skate the way I wanted and jump the way I wanted," she said.
"I had thought about staking my career on the Sochi Olympic season," she added.
In Sochi last month, Asada botched her trademark triple axel and other jumps to stand a lowly 16th after the short programme. But she came back brilliantly in the free skate to finish sixth overall.
She improved further at the world championships before her home fans.
Asada broke Kim's short programme world record and topped the free skate section to win her third women's title following her triumphs in 2008 and 2010.
On Sunday, she said her free skating in Sochi and her overall performance in Saitama was the level she had been seeking to produce ever since Vancouver.
"I am finally beginning to really get a grip of how I can perform," she said.
"But you need to set a goal and have a lot of determination to stay on. If such things don't come out naturally, I don't think I can do it," she added. "I don't think there is any need for me to come to an immediate decision."
Asada has been a poster girl for Japanese figure skating since winning her first Grand Prix Final title in 2005 to begin a longtime rivalry with Kim, a fellow 23-year-old.
She is the only woman to regularly attempt the difficult but high-scoring triple axel in top competitions.
But the 3.5-rotation jump has often ruined her performances in recent years although she won the US and Japanese Grand Prix events and the Grand Prix final this season without clean triple-axel jumps.
Kim retired from competition after finishing runner-up in Sochi to Russia's 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova amid a judging controversy.
If Asada retires, it would leave Japan without a top female skater after the country produced five world champions and one Olympic gold medallist. Shizuka Arakawa became the first woman from Asia to win the Olympic title at Turin in 2006.
But Japanese men have become a major force in world figure skating.
In Saitama, Yuzuru Hanyu added the world crown to his Olympic gold medal and Grand Prix Final title -- a hat-trick of global titles in the same season previously achieved only by Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2001-2002.
The 19-year-old became the first Asian man to win an Olympic title in Sochi.
He came from behind to beat short programme leader and compatriot Tatsuki Machida into second spot overall in Saitama.
"I don't consider myself an ace among Japanese men," Hanyu said. "Any of us can win and Machida performed wonderfully. I have respect for him."
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