Double Olympic medalist Ai Fukuhara said Tuesday the weight of announcing her retirement has lifted after being lauded for her nearly 20-year career as a professional table tennis player.
"After various people told me they appreciated me, I felt lighter. Now it's clear," Fukuhara said, speaking to the press for the first time since she announced her retirement on her blog Sunday.
Fukuhara, nicknamed "Ai-chan," rose to fame as a child prodigy after turning professional at age 10. A four-time Olympian, she won a team silver medal at the 2012 London Games and a bronze two years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
(Fukuhara at an exhibition match in Osaka in June 1994, at the age of 5)
(Fukuhara at Ogimura Cup tournament in June 2000 at the age of 11)
(Fukuhara and teammates at the 2012 London Olympics)
She married Taiwanese table tennis player Chiang Hung-chieh after the Rio Games and has not competed since giving birth to their daughter a year ago.
But Fukuhara, who turns 30 next month, said she expects to be involved with the sport for the rest of her life, including serving as a director on the board of the T-League, Japan's new pro table tennis league kicking off Wednesday.
"I think that I'm a lifetime table tennis person," Fukuhara said. "I want to use the power that everyone has given me to contribute to the table tennis world and sports world."