Mao Asada details retirement in tearful press conference

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One of Japan’s most popular athletes should have known she couldn’t leave quietly: Mao Asada‘s press conference Wednesday to officially announce her retirement from figure skating attracted some 350 media and was telecast live across Japan.

Asada led her country’s figure skating scene since her teens with her trademark triple axel. She started skating at the age of 5 and won world championships in 2008, 2010 and 2014 in an illustrious career that included a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The 26-year-old Asada decided to take a break from competitive skating in 2014 and made a comeback the following year.

While she had some positive results, including a bronze at the 2015 NHK Trophy, a career-low 12th-place finish at the national championships last December convinced her it was time to call it a career. Asada had dealt with a reported knee injury in her final season.

“I saw my score in the kiss and cry, and thought, ‘Maybe I don’t have to do this anymore,” Asada said, according to the Japan Times, adding that she made up her mind in February. “I’ve competed at the national championships since I was 12, and I ended with the most disappointing result that I ever had. It factored into making the decision as one of the biggest reasons.”

Asada, who announced her retirement from her 21-year career on her blog two days ago, occupied a special place in the Japanese sports landscape. Her popularity far exceeded that of other figure skaters, even those who won gold medals.

The youngest of two daughters, Asada had a personality that endured her to her legion of fans. Soft-spoken and exceedingly polite, many regarded her as their own “younger sister” and her photogenic looks added to the aura.

“I still have photos of myself as a 5-year-old skating in a crash helmet and knee-pads,” Asada said, according to Agence-France Presse. “It’s amazing I’ve been able to compete for such a long time.”

Throughout her early career, Asada’s mother, Kyoko, was a constant companion, attending all of her competitions and monitoring her progress up the ranks.

Asada qualified for the 2011-12 Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, but had to return home when her mother became seriously ill. Her mother died of liver cirrhosis while Asada was flying back from Canada.

She was in her early 20s at the time and her loss struck an emotional chord with her fans.

“Over my long career, I encountered a lot of mountains,” Asada said. “I was able to get over those mountains thanks to the support of many people and I’m full of gratitude.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Asada called her performance in the free skate at the 2014 Sochi Olympics her most memorable.

“It’s difficult to pick just one,” Asada said. “But the free skate in Sochi is definitely one that stands out.”

She placed 16th in the short program in Sochi after falling on her triple axel, under-rotating a triple flip, and doubling a triple loop.

But in a stirring free skate, Asada rebounded, earning a personal best score of 142.71 making her the third women to score above the 140 mark after Yuna Kim‘s 2010 Olympics score and Yulia Lipnitskaya‘s 2014 Olympics team event score.

That placed Asada third in the free skating and sixth overall. Even though she didn’t win a medal, it was a performance that many will never forget.

She will long be remembered for her rivalry with Kim.

“We competed with each other since we were about 16 years old,” Asada said, according to the Japan Times. “We really inspired each other, and I think we shook up figure skating together.”

Asada had said at the 2016 World Championships that she planned to compete through the 2018 Olympics.

“I was conflicted because I announced my goal publicly and didn’t carry it out,” Asada said, according to the Japan Times.

As for what’s next, Asada said she is ready to take a new step in her life and will continue appearing in figure skating shows.

“I have no unease about the future,” Asada said. “I want to try new things and keep moving forward in a positive way.”

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Alysia Montano announces pregnancy with clever video, no racing plans

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño is due in November with her second child, but this time she has no current plan to race at the U.S. Championships while pregnant.

Montaño’s husband and manager, Louis, said Wednesday that she has no races on her calendar (nationals are in late June) but hopes to continue her fitness during pregnancy. She may do a couple of 5Ks this summer.

Earlier Wednesday, the family announced the pregnancy in a clever video.

The video included the couple’s first child, Linnea, was born in August 2014, two months after Montaño made worldwide headlines for racing while eight months pregnant at nationals.

Montaño, 31, last raced at the Millrose Games on Feb. 11 in her first meet since falling in the Olympic Trials 800m final on July 4.

Montaño is set to be awarded her first two world outdoor championships medals, four and six years after she ran those races, due to a former Russian rival’s doping ban.

MORE: Montaño finds little joy after Russian stripped of medals

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

This means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors,” said the Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event.

“We Social Democrats have always thought that the Olympic Games are important for Stockholm’s growth and development,” Wanngard said in a statement, adding there was little backing for the event. “Unfortunately, we are alone to have this position about the Olympic Games.”

Swedish Sports Confederation chairman Bjorn Eriksson said he and his organization “fully respect the decision as we also believe in a realistic budget and a sustainable economy.”

Sports Minister Gabriel Wikstrom also supported the decision, adding that the Social Democratic-led government was “ready to handle requests for financial guarantees.”

“We have also been clear that it is Stockholm’s city that must make its decision first,” he told Sweden news agency TT.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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