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Japanese gymnast Hatakeda quits at 21 over injury, pandemic


Hitomi Hatakeda

Japan’s Hitomi Hatakeda looks on after competing in the balance beam event at the women’s team qualification during the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Kitakyushu City Gymnasium in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture on October 18, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

Japanese gymnast Hitomi Hatakeda has announced she will retire at 21 after suffering a spinal injury at last year’s world championships and struggling with motivation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hatakeda was diagnosed with damage to her central spinal cord and bruising of the cervical vertebrae after falling off the uneven bars during practice in October last year.

She was discharged from hospital one week later but said in an Instagram post on Tuesday that she has still not completely recovered, citing the injury as one of her reasons for quitting.

She also said she has found it “difficult to stay motivated” with competitions being cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic.

Next month’s Japanese national championships in Tokyo will be her final competition before retiring, she added.

She said her injury will prevent her from competing on all apparatus but she will “try to do as much as I can so that I can give something back to people, even if it’s just a little”.

“I’ve had so many great experiences that I would have never thought possible when I started out in gymnastics, and that’s down to the people who have supported me, who I have nothing but gratitude for,” she wrote.

Hatakeda was part of the Japan women’s team that finished fifth at last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her father Yoshiaki is a former gymnast who won bronze in the men’s team event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Her younger sister Chiaki is also a gymnast.

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