Wrestling legend Saori Yoshida said Thursday she has no regrets as she brings her long-lasting career to an end and that she hopes to play a role in supporting young Japanese wrestlers at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Two days after announcing her retirement on Twitter, Yoshida, a three-time Olympic and 13-time world champion, told a packed press conference in Tokyo that she has "done everything she wants to do in wrestling."
"I took this long (to decide on my retirement) because there was a part of me that wanted to compete at the Olympics at home and because people have rooted for me to make up for the silver medal that I finished with in Rio," Yoshida said.
"But, when looking back, I knew I did everything I wanted to do."
The 36-year-old has not competed since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics where she fell short of a fourth-straight Olympic gold medal with a shock loss in the final. The defeat to American Helen Maroulis in the gold medal bout was only the third in Yoshida's senior career.
Yoshida competed for most of her career in the 55-kilogram class but dropped to the 53 kg event for the first time at the Olympics in Rio after the sport's governing body shifted the weight divisions.
Yoshida is one of the most successful freestyle wrestlers in the sport's history, having remained nearly unbeaten since making her senior-level international debut in 2002. She has also been doubling as national team coach ahead of the 2020 Games.
"I have a lot of dreams that I want to fulfill but my whole life has centered around wrestling. There's a part of me that wants to be able to do things outside of the sport and also achieve happiness as a woman," she said.
"But I know the coaches and the athletes have been gunning for their best, so I want to give them mental support."
She is recognized as having shined a spotlight on women's wrestling with her seemingly-unbeatable record and down-to-earth personality, but she is confident that she is leaving the sport in good hands.
"After seeing the momentum of the younger athletes, the thought that I can pass on the torch to them grew stronger," she said. "The national championships in December was when I made up my mind."
Yoshida entered the 2016 Games having won 16 straight titles at the Olympics (3) and world championships (13), a streak that remains the longest in the sport's history.
She beat the previous record of 12 consecutive combined world and Olympic titles held by Russia's Aleksandr Karelin when she won her 10th straight world title in 2012. Earlier in the year, Yoshida had won her third Olympic championship in London. She received the People's Honor Award from the Japanese prime minister for the feat.
However, she said the loss in Rio de Janeiro, where she captained the Japanese delegation, allowed her to appreciate and understand the sport even more.
"All meets bring back memories, but in Rio, I learned what people felt after losing," Yoshida said. "Losing allowed me to realize that I was able to accomplish a lot because of all of the other wrestlers -- those who competed alongside me."
Yoshida took up the sport as a 3-year-old in Mie Prefecture in central Japan under her father and former wrestler Eikatsu, who ran a wrestling school. She overcame his sudden death in March 2014 and proved unbeatable at the worlds six months later.
"My trademark takedowns were my strength and allowed me to be confident. I was able to beat my opponents because of the takedowns my father had taught me," she said.
"Neither my father nor my brothers competed at the Olympics, but their support allowed me to go to four Olympics. Competing there made me who I am today."