Olympic hero Wu leaves the mat with no regrets

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Wu Jingyu (R) of China competes with Adriana Cerezo Iglesias of Spain during the women's 49kg taekwondo quarterfinal match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Wang Yuguo)

With two Olympic gold medals and numerous world titles under her belt, Chinese taekwondo great Wu Jingyu could call time on her career with an immense sense of pride and satisfaction-and above all, no regrets.

Now, the focus will be family for the 34-year-old mother-of-one from Jiangxi province.

"It's time to say goodbye. I gave all my love and passion to the sport over the past 22 years. I have no regrets anymore," said Wu after being knocked out of the 49kg class at the quarterfinal stage on Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics.

"I want to thank all the people who supported me, encouraged me and helped me. I will carry all this with me into the next phase of life. I will keep going, and I still have dreams in my life. See you next time, some place else."

Wu, an Olympic champion in 2008 and 2012, was ready to retire after the 2016 Rio Games. However, after giving birth to her daughter in 2017, she made a strong return to international competition, deciding to go for glory once more at her fourth Olympics.

"I made that decision not to prove anything. I just still felt like being an athlete, purely out of love for the sport. Now, it's finally finished. I'm feeling good. In many ways, I have been waiting for this moment. It's a feeling of relief and peace."

Wu is renowned for her perseverance, braveness and tenacity, inspiring a new generation of young athletes to follow in her footsteps.

As something of a trailblazer in taekwondo for China, she has elevated the nation's global standing in the sport. Wu has achieved many milestones along the way, including claiming China's first Asian Games title in taekwondo in Doha in 2006, and winning China's first Olympic gold in her category at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"I'm not the smartest woman in life, but I have no regrets at all after giving everything in my career with my persistence and belief.

"Everything is good now. I'm very proud of myself for what I have done over the past two decades."

Wu admitted that giving birth did have an effect on her performance, with fatigue often setting in during bouts.

"I have no specific physical issues and I fear no one on the mat. Tactically speaking, I know what I need to do in the next move and can also predict how my opponent will attack. But sometimes I just can't get my body to respond exactly how I want it to," she said.

"I'm 34 and sometimes you have to admit that age simply shows you no mercy."

Wu said she will spend more time with her daughter and family first before deciding her next steps in life.

"I think I will be very, very happy together with my family after this Olympics. My personality means I will never say die as long as I'm an athlete. So it's impossible for an athlete like me to totally enjoy a match. Every time you stand on the mat, it's like a live-or-die fight.

"So now that it's all over, I can say I will be very happy, and now I can relax and enjoy myself."

Even though her competitive career has concluded, it seems certain that Wu will continue to engage with the sport.

She is vice-president of the Chinese Taekwondo Association (CTA), as well as a national team coach, but has yet to confirm what area she intends to focus her energies.

"I have not made up my mind on whether to serve in the CTA or coach the national team," Wu said last year. "But I will stay in the sport, that is beyond doubt. I think it's wonderful if a person can do one thing for his or her whole life."

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