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Good bye Ai Fukuhara

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. Japanese table tennis star Ai Fukuhara has announced her retirement.

Ai Fukuhara (aka “Ai-Chan”)

On her Weibo account, Ai-Chan has said:

Table tennis star Ai Fukuhara to retire
Table tennis star Ai Fukuhara to retire (photo from NHK World)

Dear friends:

Today I want to tell you something.
I, Ai Fukuhara, will retire from professional table tennis.

Ever since the end of the Rio Olympics, I’ve thought about it for a long time and almost every day.
Sometimes I change my mind for two days, but I finally figured out an answer.
So I want to share with you today.

One of Japan’s most popular athletes, Fukuhara rose to fame as a child prodigy. She competed at the Olympics from 2004 to 2016, winning a team silver medal at the 2012 London Games and bronze two years ago in Rio de Janeiro. There is another player, his name is Ma Lin, who also won the Silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics..

Her husband
Her husband

She married Chiang Hung-Chieh, a fellow table tennis player from Taiwan after the Rio Games, gave birth to their daughter a year ago and has not competed since.

Ai Fukuhara in China

Often called “Japanese doll” by Chinese fans, Fukuhara is very popular in China because she speaks fluent Putonghua with a Northeast China accent and has deep connections in Chinese table tennis circles. 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.

Fukuhara and teammates at the 2012 London Olympics
Fukuhara and teammates at the 2012 London Olympics

Fukuhara participated in the China Table Tennis Super League and is close to Chinese athletes. Fukuhara has almost 4 million Weibo followers.

Many Chinese netizens said they were reluctant to say goodbye but still sent best blessings to “Ai Jiang,” a nickname given by Chinese fans. “The Chinese table tennis team will feel lonely,” wrote a Sina Weibo user.  “The friendship between China and Japan still needs you,” another one said.

Fukuhara showed her gratitude in the post using Chinese, thanking the fans for supporting her, and Chinese teams for allowing her to train with them.

She also recalled the time she played table tennis in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province and made friends with the Chinese table tennis players. “The first time I went to China was when I was 5 years old. I still remember the delicious taste of fried bread sticks for breakfast,” Fukuhara said.

The first time I went to China to train was when I was 5 years old.
I remember that I had never played so much. I couldn’t sleep after the first session.
The youtiao[Chinese cruller] that I ate every morning were delicious.
I can still remember the taste of the time.
Starting that year, it’d been a month-long training every summer vacation.
It started giving me lots of networking and feelings with everyone.

Ai-Chan practice at the provincial team

Ai-Chan is so friendly, and many top Chinese players like her.

Ai-Chan at the Olympics Beijing 2008
Ai-Chan at the Olympics Beijing 2008

Thank you to the provincial teams for letting me practice in your team,
Whenever I went to China to train, I felt that I’d always improved a lot.
Although the training was very hard, every time I returned to Japan to play, I was particularly confident and had good results.

Ai Fukuhara training at a young age

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. She told about her training at a very young age:

Fukuhara an exhibition match in Osaka in June 1994, at the age of 5
Fukuhara an exhibition match in Osaka in June 1994, at the age of 5

I started playing table tennis from the age of 3.
I am 30 years old this year, and most of my life has been about table tennis.
Table tennis has taught me all the important things in life.

Ai-Chan future plan in table tennis

She explained her future plan:

Table tennis star Ai Fukuhara, who announced her retirement
Table tennis star Ai Fukuhara, who announced her retirement

Perhaps many fans are looking forward to my playing on,

and often tell me to keep up for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, I seem to have let down everyone’s expectations.
But in fact, I am not sad to announce my retirement,

I have been playing table tennis since I was 3 years old, I always think that it is my responsibility and mission to make Japanese table tennis better.
At the press conference for my wedding 2 years ago, I once said that I hoped to build a family first, before coming back to table tennis.
Looking back, there are a lot of up-and-coming girls out there now, I can rest assured and let go of my burden.
I want to do something to help the table tennis industry get better. Promoting table tennis to more people and let more people know the beauty of table tennis.

Goodbye Ai-Chan

“I first gripped a racket at the age of three years and nine months, turned pro at 10 and began playing for the national team at 11. I played in the Chinese league when I was in high school. It’s been a long road and I’ve experienced so much.”

Fukuhara at Ogimura Cup tournament in June 2000 at the age of 11
Fukuhara at Ogimura Cup tournament in June 2000 at the age of 11

Fukuhara first rose to prominence when she advanced to the last 16 at the national championships for elementary school students (open to ages eight and under) in 1993 at just four years old. She was then featured on television programs as the “genius table tennis girl,” and began to be known by her popular nickname “Ai-chan.”

For me, table tennis is a benefactor.
I hope that for the next stage of my life, to not forget this grateful heart, I want to be filial to the table tennis industry.
I also want to say something to you who support me all the way to the present day:
Thank you very much.

Ai Fukuhara


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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

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