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Saori Yoshida retires, passes torch to next generation of wrestlers

TOKYO -- Japan's three-time Olympic wrestling champion Saori Yoshida has announced her retirement, saying it's time for "the next generation of wrestlers" to take the stage at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 36-year-old Yoshida, who also won 13 consecutive world championships, spoke before a packed news conference on Thursday at a hotel in central Tokyo.

"I realize I have done everything I can as a wrestler," Yoshida said, "and it's now time to let the next generation of wrestlers take over."

Yoshida had been taking time away from competition since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she fell short of a fourth straight gold medal and settled for silver. She has been serving as a coach for the Japanese national team in the lead-up to the Tokyo Summer Games.

She received the People's Honor Award in 2012 after surpassing Aleksandr Karelin's record for consecutive world titles. The Russian wrestling legend won three Olympic gold medals and nine world championships from 1988 to 1999.

Yoshida competed for most of her career in the 55-kilogram class but dropped to the 53 kg event for the first time at the Olympics in Rio after the sport's governing body shifted the weight divisions.

Yoshida, who began wrestling at age 3, said she was tempted to stick around until the Tokyo Olympics.

"After Rio, I had the desire to compete in Tokyo," Yoshida said. "My father told me it's important to know when to retire. I knew I would need my best efforts to perform well in Tokyo, and when I saw how motivated the younger wrestlers coming up were I knew the time was right."

Yoshida said she would continue coaching younger wrestlers and will pursue other interests. She has already appeared in several television commercials.

"I have many dreams," Yoshida said. "I would like to do something besides wrestling. I want to seek happiness, and, of course, I want to give support for the Tokyo Games."