On a rainy late September Sunday in Tokyo, Japan’s darling Reiko Shiota put an official end to her 23-year-long successful career.
By Yann V., Photos: Yves Lacroix for Badmintonphoto
In front of a large crowd of young fans waving pink (her favourite colour) placards reading Rei-chan, arigato (thanks)!, the 28-year-old Shiota said again that she could not achieve her ultimate Olympic medal dream but was happy to take her leave from badminton in front of the people who have been supportive for all these years.
Then, she was met by celebrity friends (like the swimming star Kosuke Kitajima and the beach volleyball champion Satoko Urata) and family members, as well as her mixed partner for the last four years, Shintaro Ikeda, but surprisingly enough not by Kumiko Ogura (even if she was Shiota’s partner since their 1st year of high school and the other half of the famous « Ogushio » unit had previously issued a press statement thanking Shiota for her achievements and wishing her the best for the future after a « well earned rest »).
The previous day, after a quick defeat at the hands of Indonesian pair, Rijal/Natsir, Shiota said in tearful interviews and during the press conference that her first thought after the loss to the Indonesian pair was obviously sadness, but above all gratitude for the public support through the years.
She added that she was disappointed with the result of the day but happy that the pair could play well until the end. She said also that the years after the Ogushio craze were difficult at times, with the new challenge with Ikeda in a very different category, with the change from Sanyo to Unisys, but also with the joys of the domestic victories for the « Ikeshio » unit as well as the lessons learned from the national coach Park.
Last but not least, she concluded that even if they were not successful in the end, her two Olympic campaigns (Beijing with Ogura and London with Ikeda) remain perhaps her best badminton memories.
After the tears of Saturday and the farewell ceremony of Sunday, the tabloid coverage of Reiko’s private life could resume with the pictures of Tatsuya Masushima sitting in the stands.
In fact, news of Reiko’s marriage, by registration, to the J-League Kashiwa Reysol’s 27-year-old defender emerged barely a week after her retirement ceremony (see here). A date for the actual wedding ceremony is still anticipated, although mention has been made of next January as well as a venue in Hawaii.
Shiota’s retirement was actually only one ripple in somewhat rough waters for Japanese badminton last month, which also saw the split of London Olympic silver medallists Mizuki Fujii / Reika Kakiiwa, the unit poised to match Ogushio’s fame in Japan. To its two runner-up finishes by veterans at its home Open, however, Japan can also look to what is probably its strongest ever junior team for its badminton future.
For Shiota, the next chapter of her life will not only involve married life, but also the a new career as a newscaster. However, the star has said also that she will do her best to keep on promoting her beloved sport in Japan.