Never before have Chinese internet users so openly liked and supported a Japanese athlete as they have loved table tennis star Ai Fukuhara, better known by her Japanese nickname “Ai-Chan”.
Ai Fukuhara takes part in a table tennis match. XINHUA
But they may now feel heartbroken, as the 29-year-old announced on Oct 21 that she would be retiring from the sport. “I’ve found the answers within myself that I have been searching for. From the standpoint of an athlete, I’m drawing the line here,” Fukuhara wrote on her blog.
After she starting playing table tennis at 3 years old, Fukuhara was seen as a child genius at the sport. Being trained in China at a very young age, Fukuhara can speak fluent Mandarin, with a northeastern accent.
If her deep-rooted connection with China is one thing that has won the hearts of Chinese fans, her personality is another. She always shows her real self to the public without hiding her emotions. She laughs in games when she wins, and cries when loses. The fact that she often cries when she gets upset has earned her the nickname “Crybaby Ai-Chan” in China.
Despite being beaten by a long line of Chinese champions, Fukuhara always tries her best when playing her favorite sport.
Yet, she also knows that now is the best time to close the curtain on her successful career. It’s hard to say goodbye to a long journey, but as Fukuhara once said on a reality TV show, “Life is not all about table tennis. Instead, life contains it.”
As for her future plans, Fukuhara wrote that she would like to promote table tennis and help more people around the world get to know the beauty of the sport.
Indeed, sport is something that goes beyond national boundaries, just as the friendship between Fukuhara and the Chinese coaches, athletes, and fans shows.