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Japan's Asada to sit out next season, think about retirement

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese figure skater Mao Asada, the veteran of two winter Olympic Games, plans to sit out the 2014-2015 competitive season but remains unsure about retirement and wants to take the year to think about her future plans.

Asada, who took a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, had been tipped as a top contender for gold in Sochi this year but had a disastrous short program, although she rebounded with a strong free skate that left her in sixth place overall.

She subsequently won gold at the World Championships held in Saitama, Japan, in March.

"I'm taking a year to slowly think about what my next goal will be," the 23-year-old, known in Japan by affectionate nickname "Mao-chan," told a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, adding that she wanted a break both physically and mentally.

"I don't know what the future holds and basically want to take things as they come. As for the season after that, I'm still half-and-half (on retiring)."

Known as the only woman to land three of the complicated triple Axel jumps in competition, Asada struggled with it during most of the season. She fell while attempting it in the short program but landed it the next day.

Her score in the short program at the World Championships set a world record, beating the previous record held by long-term rival Kim Yu-na of South Korea, and she won handily to take the crown for the third time.

Asada began skating at the age of five and began drawing global attention while still at the junior level, which also saw the start of her long rivalry with Kim, the same age.

After losing gold to Kim in Vancouver, Asada began to rebuild her skating from the basics, struggling through several painful years honing her skills.

"The first year and second year I was thinking all the time when I practiced. It's all an issue of sense, of feeling," she told Reuters in an interview in November 2013.

"There's nothing I can put my finger on, but basically it was just a matter of practicing every day until I got it."

She suffered a further blow in December 2011, when her mother, Kyoko, died at the age of 48, sending her into a slump during which she said she "hated skating."

Asada has said that ice shows are one possibility for her future but that she would first like to travel, perhaps to a place like Bali "where you can really take it easy."

Asked if she could visualize herself skating at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she said no.

"It's hard to know, but I gave it all I had," she said, adding she has resumed attending university. "At least for now, the thought of not competing is fresh."

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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