Ayaka Takahashi said Wednesday that she lacks the fire to try and defend her Olympic women’s doubles championship at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics and will retire at the end of this month.
While the vast majority of Olympic hopefuls are continuing on for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed until 2021, Takahashi, a gold medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, decided that she will not.
“I had doubts about my mind and body getting through another year,” Takahashi said in an online news conference where she was joined by her playing partner Misaki Matsutomo.
“When I shared my honest feelings with my partner Matsutomo and (my employer) Nihon Unisys they respected my decision. My parents were understanding as well, and telling them was a big weight off my shoulders,” she said.
The 30-year-old Takahashi and 28-year-old Matsutomo, with the pair nicknamed “Takamatsu,” claimed Japan’s first Olympic badminton gold medal after beating Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl in Rio.
The pair began playing together as students at the same high school in Miyagi Prefecture. They won five national championships between 2011 and 2016 and remained the world No. 1 pair for 18 months.
However, they were in danger of missing out on a home Olympics. With only two slots given to Japan, Takahashi and Matsutomo are Japan’s third-ranked pair. The qualifying race that started in April last year was suspended in March following the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Takahashi, who said she feels proud both she and Matsutomo had remained healthy for much of their doubles career, had been dealing with a foot injury since December.
As she transitions into her new role as a retired athlete, Takahashi said she will do what she can to give back to the sport and “try new things.”
She said she was afraid of what her fans would think when she walks away from the game but needed to ask herself the tough questions and be honest with herself about the answers.
“For me it has always been all or nothing. When I train I train, when I rest I rest. The moment I started questioning my ability to win gold (at the Tokyo Olympics) I knew it was time. I don’t want to play half-heartedly. It doesn’t feel right.”
In her closing speech, Takahashi wished Matsutomo the best of luck as she continues her career in mixed doubles.