Judo star Tani retires, to fight on as politician

Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:41am EDT
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TOKYO Oct 15 (Reuters Life) - Japan's Ryoko Tani, one of the world's most successful female judoka, retired from competition on Friday but promised to fight on as a politician to improve Japanese sport.

Tani won a record seven world titles and took part in five Olympic Games, winning gold medals in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004). She had to settle for bronze in Beijing.

"There's no real change in my fighting spirit, I'm just retiring from the first round," the smiling 35-year-old told a packed news conference.

"I'd like to thank everyone throughout Japan and the world who cheered me on and supported me," added Tani, who was elected to the upper house of parliament in July.

Tani cut an unfamiliar figure with her dark suit and hair in a bun, a far cry from the distinctive pony-tail style that earned her the nickname "Yawara-chan" after the main character in a Japanese comic, a tough judo competitor.

Tani, who married a professional baseball player, has two sons, the first of whom was born several months before Japan's Olympic qualifying matches for the Beijing Olympics.

She stopped competing after the birth of the second but had not officially retired.

During her election campaign this summer she came under fire for saying she would still seek to win gold at the 2012 London Olympics even if she won a seat.

"I thought I'd be able to continue both as a lawmaker and as a competitor, but I also felt I needed to push to improve the overall situation for Japanese athletes, which in some ways lags the rest of the world," she told the news conference.

"Now I'd like to work more for this than for competitions."

(Writing by Elaine Lies; editing by Peter Rutherford)