Momota retires from international badminton at 29

In Sports
April 18, 2024



TOKYO:

Two-time world champion Kento Momota said Thursday he is retiring from international badminton aged 29, admitting he had never been the same since a serious car crash four years ago.
Japan’s Momota was once badminton’s undisputed king, winning 11 titles in 2019 and losing just six of the 73 matches he played that year.
But in January 2020 the vehicle taking him to Kuala Lumpur airport crashed hours after he won the Malaysia Masters.
The driver was killed and Momota needed surgery to repair a fractured eye socket.
When he returned after a year out Momota suffered double vision and failed to regain the scintillating form that had taken him to world number one, although he did win two more titles.
“At the time of the accident, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think to myself, ‘Why me?’,” Momota told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday.
Now ranked 52 and having missed out on a place at the Paris Olympics, Momota will retire from Japan’s national team after playing at the Thomas Cup in China later this month.
After that he will play only in domestic competitions in Japan and not on badminton’s World Tour.
“There were a lot of tough times after that traffic accident,” Momota added.
“I tried to get back to the way I used to play through trial and error, but there was a gap between my feelings and my body.
“That continued and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to a level where I was competing with the world’s best.”
Smiling broadly throughout his 45-minute press conference but pausing often to choose the right words, Momota said he had “no regrets” about retiring from top-level badminton.
He wants to promote badminton in Japan and thanked the people involved in the sport for helping him through his darkest hour.
“There was a lot of hardship and it wore me down, but I didn’t want to blame the tough times on the accident,” he added.
“I wanted to bounce back from it and that attitude along with the support of people around me at least allowed me to get a foothold.”
Momota had targeted this summer’s Paris Olympics but his national ranking was not good enough to earn him a spot in Japan’s team.
He was banned from selection for the 2016 Rio Olympics for gambling at an illegal casino.
He lost in the opening round of the Tokyo Games in 2021 in a huge shock which he described as “nothing but a frustrating memory”.
“I don’t think I was fully prepared for it but I had dreamed of playing at the Olympics for a long time so in that sense it was a good experience,” he said.
Momota urged his Japan team-mates to learn from his mistakes and keep calm when they step out onto the Olympic court in Paris.
“I really felt how difficult it was to do the things you do normally, so don’t think about the result, just give it your all so that you have no regrets,” he said.

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