By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Mao Asada, a triple world champion and Olympic silver medalist, is expected to announce next week whether she intends to hang up her skates or resume her competitive career after a one-year hiatus.
The 24-year-old silver medalist from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver said last May that she was taking a year off after last year's Sochi Games to consider her future, adding that she was exhausted and retirement was a 50-50 possibility.
But Asada, nicknamed "Mao-chan" in Japan, has recently resumed training with coach Nobuo Sato, according to Japanese media, prompting speculation that an announcement on her future would be made on Monday.
Asked if Asada would return to competition, Sato said: "I hear she is leaning in that direction," the Nikkei business daily reported.
Other Japanese media, however, quoted Sato as saying that the two of them had yet to reach a final decision.
Asada was tipped as a leading medal contender at Sochi but had a disastrous short program, although she rebounded with a strong free skate to finish sixth overall.
She won her third world championship a month later, setting a world record with the same short program but soon announced that she was taking a break.
"I'm taking a year to slowly think about what my next goal will be," she told a news conference. "I don't know what the future holds and basically want to take things as they come."
Asada began skating at the age of five, enticed into the sport by her sister Mai, who is two years older and remains an active skater.
She began to draw attention while still a junior, sharing the limelight with South Korea's Kim Yuna at the start of a long rivalry that climaxed at the 2010 Games, when Asada took silver to Kim's gold in a loss that clearly left scars.
"There have been some very tough times but if she wasn't there I wouldn't have made the progress I have," Asada told Reuters in a 2013 interview, after spending several painful years rebuilding her technique.
Even if she does return to competition, Sochi was most likely her last Olympics. Asked in May 2014 if she could see herself skating at the 2018 Games in Pyeonchang, she said "no".
"It's hard to know but I gave it all I had," she added.
(Editing by John O'Brien)