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Daisuke Takahashi ends four-year figure skating retirement

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Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi is coming out of a four-year retirement, according to the Olympic medalist and world champion’s website.

“First and foremost, I would like to announce my return to the competition from beginning of the new season,” the statement read. “In 2017 Japan Figure Skating Championships, I had the privilege to be present at the site from media’s standpoint and I was really moved by each skater’s respective positions thus motivations, which made me realize that I want to fight and skate again in such tensed environment.”

Takahashi, 32, last competed at the Sochi Olympics, taking sixth, four years after becoming both the first Japanese male Olympic figure skating medalist (bronze) and world champion.

He returns at an advanced age. For perspective, the last time a 32-year-old competed in Olympic singles skating was 1998.

“It took me nearly 4 years from then, but now I would like to face fully with figure skating, and for me to catch up on my skating from the old days, I realized that returning to the competition is the answer,” Takahashi said on his website. “Being away for 4 years, I understand that it will be beyond my imagination of how difficult it may be for me to get back in the game. But I would like to push and train myself even harder in order for me to achieve the feeling of giving all I’ve got and that is the one thing that I couldn’t accomplish before my retirement. Needless to say but I am really excited and looking forward to skating as a competitor again in front of all the people who have been supporting me for all these years. Wish me luck.”

Takahashi won two other world championships silver medals and finished eighth or better at every worlds and Olympics at which he skated from 2006 through Sochi.

He helped usher in the current deep crop of Japanese men’s skaters, including Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and silver medalist Shoma Uno.

“I asked him for advice and he has helped me many times,” Hanyu said in a statement when Takahashi retired, according to Agence France-Presse. “As a skater … he will always be someone I look up to.”

The fourth son of a hairdresser and an architect, Takahashi opted not to follow his brothers into karate and began figure skating instead.

He would become one of the beloved athletes in the sport, adored in Japan as a five-time national champion. Fans were brought to tears when it was announced in the arena at the 2013 Japanese Championships that he was placed on the three-man Olympic team despite finishing fifth at that event.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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