Rio 2016 doubles champ Takahashi Ayaka announces retirement

The 30-year-old partnered schoolmate Matsutomo Misaki to gold in Brazil and led Japan to Uber Cup glory in 2018.

By Rory Jiwani

Reigning Olympic women's doubles champion Takahashi Ayaka will not defend her title at the Tokyo Games after announcing her retirement, aged 30.

She and Matsutomo Misaki, her partner from when they played together at high school, won Japan's first ever Olympic badminton gold at Rio 2016 to end a long run of Chinese dominance.

The pair gave a tearful online news conference on Wednesday (19 August) with Takahashi saying she had informed her partner of her decision in early June, just after Japan loosened its COVID restrictions.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to next year proved pivotal with Matsutomo intending to play on.

Takahashi said, "I’ve decided to end my career on August 31st. I had doubts as to whether my mind and body would get through another year. For me it has always been all or nothing. When I train I train, when I rest I rest.

"The moment I started questioning my ability to win gold at Tokyo I knew it was time. I don't want to play half-heartedly. It doesn't feel right." - Takahashi Ayaka

Japan's Takahashi Ayaka (L) and Matsutomo Misaki celebrate their women's doubles gold at Rio 2016

The end of Japan's golden pair

Affectionately known as 'Takamatsu', Takahashi and Matsutomo were doubles partners for 13 years stretching back to their time together at high school in Miyagi Prefecture.

They claimed their first national title in 2011 and won the 2014 Japan Open, having suffered defeat in four previous BWF Superseries finals, before topping the world rankings later that year.

But 2016 was their golden year as they beat Denmark's Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl to secure Japan's first badminton Olympic title.

They created more history in 2018 as team captain Takahashi, the older sister of singles player Sayaka, led Japan to their first Uber Cup success since 1981.

The pair faced an uphill struggle to defend their Olympic title on home soil as the third-ranked partnership in Japan - with only two teams allowed per country - when COVID prompted the suspension of the BWF Tour.

Matsutomo gave thanks to her partner saying, "I feel so grateful because, without you, I could never have reached where I am today."

Takahashi's retirement prompted a warm tribute from the Japanese Olympic Committee with the message, "Nicknamed "Takamatsu", the pair of Takahashi and Matsutomo won Japan's first Olympic badminton gold medal with remarkable performances. Thank you Takahashi for your courage and giving us so much excitement."

The Japanese National Badminton Association followed suit saying, "Takahashi Reika announced today that she will retire from badminton at the end of August. Thank you for your achievements in 'Takamatsu' with Matsumoto Maki which have left a lasting impression."

While Matsutomo says she will continue in mixed doubles, Takahashi plans to remain involved with the sport but wants to "try new things".