Japanese table tennis star Ai Fukuhara has announced her retirement. The announcement was posted on her weblog on Sunday.
In her post, Fukuhara said she will become 30 years old this year and she has spent much of her life devoted to table tennis. She says it has taught her everything that is important in life.
The 29-year-old Japanese player began playing the sport when she was 3 years old. Even as a child, she won a number of tournaments, gaining popularity as a ping-pong prodigy.
Fukuhara won a silver medal in a team event in the London Olympics in 2012, and a bronze medal in the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.
She married a Taiwanese player, Chiang Hung-chieh, and became a mother in October last year.
She posted a message on her blog saying that she still hopes to contribute to the sport, not as an athlete but from a different position, as a way to return all the support she has received.
Having played for Chinese teams, Fukuhara is fluent in Chinese and has millions of fans in China. Following her announcement, a flood of messages have been posted online. One comment said it feels like having lost an important person all of a sudden. Another post said Fukuhara is the Japanese player most loved by the Chinese.
Major Chinese online media reported Fukuhara's announcement as headline news, showing the magnitude of her popularity.